MORE than 100 days of “out-of-hours” GP sessions have effectively been lost across Scotland in recent months, new research indicates.
It has prompted fresh concerns that Scotland’s hard-pressed doctors are facing the “biggest crisis in a generation” as their numbers and resources fall, while patient demand soars.
GP out-of-hours sessions tend to last three to four hours outside of the normal working hours of 9am to 6pm, with longer sessions through the night.
But there have been 826 unfilled sessions in the last three months, according to statistics uncovered by Labour through Freedom of Information. Taking each session at three hours, these 2,478 hours of unfilled sessions equate to 103 full days.
Scottish Labour public services spokesman Dr Richard Simpson, himself a former GP, voiced dismay over the shortfall.
“I had the privilege of serving a community as a GP for 30 years, but today family doctors are facing the biggest crisis general practice has seen in a generation,” he said.
“Under the SNP government in Edinburgh we have seen a drop in funding totalling over £1 billion, fewer medical students, fewer trainee vacancies being filled and now fewer out-of-hours sessions being staffed.
“This problem is only going to get worse in the next decade. SNP ministers have been in denial for far too long.”
In NHS Lanarkshire, where GPs’ out-of-hours services have been reduced from five to two centres, there were 209 sessions left unfilled – about 11.8 per cent of the total number.
In Tayside, where the centres in Perth & Angus are partly closed, there were 275 unfilled sessions in the past three months, when there would normally be 121 sessions a week. This means that almost one in five sessions were unfilled.
Grampian also saw 152 sessions missed, while there were 73 unfilled in Lothian.
Dr Simpson added: “Action now is vital because general practice in trouble will affect every part of our NHS, from missed waiting times for mental health to increasing pressure on A&E because people can’t see a local doctor.
“This is the middle of summer; if it is still this bad in winter we will begin to see real problems.
“Since the SNP came to power they have squeezed health spending in Scotland harder than the Tories in England, and our communities are feeling the effects.”
The news comes after mounting problems emerged for general practices in Scotland.
Experts at the Royal College of General Practitioners Scotland predicted earlier this year a shortfall of more than 900 family doctors by 2020, amid claims that unmanageable workloads were impacting on patient care and putting off trainees from joining the profession.
Health Secretary Shona Robison recently announced plans to reduce the “tick box culture” by dismantling the time-consuming Quality and Outcomes Framework, where surgeries are required to tick off things they have done for patients in exchange for payment. She has also pledged to inrease the number of medical students entering the profession. A move towards teams working in clusters is likely to be included in the new Scottish GPs contract for 2017.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We fundamentally value GPs and - while Scotland has more GPs per head of population than the rest of the UK - we recognise they are working very hard for their patients across the country. We are working with the BMA on a new GP contract that supports GPs and cuts red tape so more time can be spent with patients. We have also commissioned a review of out-of-hours care, which will provide clear recommendations to support those who need urgent care.
“This is in addition to the action we’ve already taken to increase the number of GPs in Scotland and investing £60 million in the Primary Care Fund.”