NURSING leaders have warned the health service is coming under “round-the-clock pressure” after new figures showed GPs carried out almost one million consultations out-of-hours last year.
Scotland’s GP out-of-hours services carried out 997,112 consultations in 2014/15, with a total of 894,474 patients seen in evenings, weekends and public holidays.
Health Secretary Shona Robison said the data, which has been released for the first time, showed “the key role GP out-of-hours services play in Scotland”.
But Norman Provan, associate director of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said: “These figures are further evidence of the round-the-clock pressures on our health services.
“The sheer number of patients using out-of-hours (OOH) services is large and the fact that almost one-fifth are over 75, potentially with complex needs, means that our nurses, doctors and other healthcare staff face major challenges in providing OOH services.”
He added: “It is important that we know just how big the challenge is.
“Publishing these figures is a positive step and regular reporting will help us assess how well we are building sustainable out-of-hours services for the future.”
While those aged 18 to 65 make up 63 per cent of the population, the group was responsible for less than half of the out-of-hours consultations, with almost a fifth of out-of-hours patients being aged 75 and above.
Ms Robison said the new data would help inform a national review of GP out-of-hours care being led by Professor Sir Lewis Ritchie.
The Health Secretary said: “Access to urgent primary medical services outside normal GP surgery hours is a fundamental part of unscheduled care in Scotland.
“The statistics released today show, for the first time, the key role GP out-of-hours services play in Scotland - with nearly 900,000 patients seen and almost one million consultations carried out last year.”
She added: “The information will also help support the national review of GP out-of-hours services, announced earlier this year, which is considering how best to deliver these services in light of the challenges of Scotland’s ageing population and the new ways of working that health and social care integration will bring.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie warned the Government was facing a “looming crisis” over out-of-hours care.
He said: “These figures reveal the extent of pressure on existing GP services. They provide a lifeline in out-of-hours services but are increasingly being expected to do even more with even less.
“The Royal College of GPs have already warned that Scotland will be 900 GPs short by 2020. Health boards are already being forced to take control of more GP practices due to shortages.
“We have the prospect of a vicious circle where increased pressure on our remaining GPs will make it harder to recruit and retain doctors in this crucial area of medicine, increasing the workload again and putting further strain on GPs and accident and emergency services alike.
“I want the SNP Government to set out how they will support local GPs and address this looming crisis.”
Prof Ritchie said he has been talking to doctors, patients, ambulance staff, NHS 24 workers and others over the summer as part of his review.