THE Royal College of General Practitioners Scotland’s report reflects a very fair assessment of the current state of GP services and the amount of pressure on them: there is no doubt patient safety will be compromised if the Scottish Government does not give proper attention to general practice.
To me, it is the jewel in the crown of the NHS, and if it didn’t exist, A&E services and hospitals would be swamped.
The problem of GPs being overstretched is not new, but it is getting worse because successive governments have failed to address the causes.
There is no doubt that trying to get an appointment with a doctor is becoming harder, so I understand why most Scottish people think there are too few GPs and that they don’t get enough time with their doctor.
Personally, I think it’s amazing that a GP is supposed to deal with complex conditions in just ten minutes. It’s certainly not long enough. A lot of the time you are trying to separate the straightforward from the acute, but the acute have become more complex.
The stresses and strains of general practice are constant: looking out for people on a daily basis and hoping to not miss anything is difficult because you’re working on something close to a conveyor belt. It’s only experience that helps you to cope with that pressure a little bit better, but even that experience makes you realise that you might still be missing things.
We also know there are patients who just give up trying to get an appointment because it’s too difficult. Either that person goes to A&E, which pushes the problem on to another part of the system, or they allow their condition to deteriorate for a couple of weeks more before trying again.
The nature of healthcare today means that people who go into hospital are being sent back out into the community far quicker than they would previously. This means these patients have to rely on the local practice for follow-up care or referral, and the government has not provided the wherewithal to put additional people into these services to cope with this extra pressure.
I think the public want politicians to put aside point-scoring over who was to blame for the current problems and work together to find an effective way of dealing with it.
Dr Jean Turner is executive director of the Scotland Patients Association