NHS Scotland: Can't get a GP appointment? Don't blame your doctor – Elsa Maishman

I remember very clearly the first time I went to see a GP in the UK. I had moved here for university, from a country where healthcare is not free, and found the concept astounding.

I walked in with my nasty cough, and walked out after some kind, efficient reassurance with some tonic or other, only £8 out of pocket. I wouldn’t even have paid for the prescription if this had been in Scotland instead of England.

A couple of years later, I went to the doctor with an affliction which turned out to be serious. I wouldn’t have gone if I had needed to pay.

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So on one of my first days on work experience at another news outlet after graduating, when I found a potential article about GPs being under pressure from some survey or press release, I pitched it to the editor.

“My heart bleeds for them,” was his reply.

I’ve since learned just how commonly held this image of GPs is: over-paid, under-worked, lazy, reclining in their cushy offices while deigning to see patients for five minutes between extended tea breaks.

There is absolutely no doubt that some GPs are like this. No doubt, in fact, that there are hundreds of people working across the senior levels of the NHS who are like this.

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Painting Scotland's GPs as lazy doesn't help anyone

But the same is true for every organisation, across every sector. In the main, GPs do a difficult and stressful job, and one that isn’t made any easier by a public perception of them as lazy.

A perception which has seemed to take on new vengeance recently, as a small minority of people blame doctors for the combination of staff shortages and high demand which mean it’s more difficult than usual to get hold of an appointment.

GPs may not face the horror of a Saturday night shift in A&E, but playing ‘overwork Olympics’ across different sections of the health system doesn’t help anyone – it’s not going to improve conditions for staff elsewhere, and it just increases stress for GPs.

These stress levels are at record highs – reports and surveys from unions show more and more doctors are suffering from overwork, low morale, and perhaps even considering leaving the profession.

Meanwhile, dissatisfaction with GP services is rising. A survey released this week by Public Health Scotland showed just 67 per cent of people rated the care provided by their GP practice as positive, compared to 79 per cent in 2020 and 85 per cent in 2014.

There’s no doubt there are problems, and some people are having to wait for care. But the idea which some people still seem to hold, and which is evidenced in the recent increases in abuse of staff, that the cause is simply “lazy” GPs is grossly unfair.

As with every other area of the health service, it comes down to overwork, low morale, and not enough staff.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has said he is confident he will be able to reach the Scottish Government target of an extra 800 GPs by 2027. It’s an ambitious target – and even that may not be enough.

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