ANALYSIS: What is happening to Scotland's GP practices?

Satisfaction with overall care at GP practices in Scotland has fallen in the biggest year-on-year drop since 2009, as reported by the Health and Care Experience survey published by the Scottish government on Tuesday.
Riverside Medical PracticeRiverside Medical Practice
Riverside Medical Practice

This has come as no surprise, fitting a pattern which has been ongoing since the Health and Care Experience survey began running in 2009.

Since then positive ratings have dropped 11 percentage points from 90 per cent to 79, which begs the question of where we will end up in a further ten years’ time.

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As the Scottish Government is often quick to point out, there are more GPs per person in Scotland than in the rest of the UK (around 76 per 100,000 people).

The government also pledged in 2017 to increase the total number of GPs by 800 in the next decade.

But in the same year the Royal College of General Practitioners warned that the country would be facing a shortfall of 856 full-time GPs by 2021.

Chair of the RCGP Professor Martin Marshall said last week that GPs across the UK are currently under “intense strain” due to increasing workload and falling numbers of trained, full-time GPs.

Members of one practice in East Lothian have gone so far as to launch an online petition complaining about lack of access to their local GP surgery, Riverside Medical Practice in Musselburgh.

Nearly 700 people have signed, with some adding that the problem began long before the Covid-19 pandemic, and others expressing concerns that it will intensify as more houses are built in the area.

A spokesperson for the practice said staff were working extra hours and that the practice has been under pressure for years, exacerbated by the loss of a neighbouring GP surgery.

They added that while some new staff had been taken on recently, they are struggling to recruit GPs, both because of a nationwide shortage and because of the high workload known to be associated with the area.

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It is likely practices such as this which bring down the average rating of care at GP surgeries across the country.

Just 32 per cent of respondents to the survey who were members of this practice rated the overall care provided positively, with 41 per cent rating it negatively.

Another East Lothian surgery, Tranent Medical Practice, has also faced staff shortages in recent years, with a former GP revealing today that she was sacked while signed off from work to care for her dying father as the practice said they could not cope with her absence.

The Director of nearby Midlothian Health and Social Care Partnership, where ratings of overall care at GP practices were among the worst in the country, recognised that local people have had difficulty recently in getting appointments and pointed to a fast-growing and ageing population.

Morag Barrow said that the HSCP is working to develop two new surgeries in the area, as well as working on rolling out new technology and methods for caring for the population.

When asked why the rating of care at GP surgeries has been steadily declining for a decade, a spokesperson said the Scottish Government is working to recruit new GPs.

Given the increasing and ageing population and reported difficulty recruiting new GPs, one has to wonder whether this will be enough.

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