Number of GPs in Scotland falls as doctors' leaders call for change

Doctors' leaders have called for support to make general practice an 'attractive' career choice once again and improve the image of the working life of a family doctor.
A third of GPs are aged over 50. Picture: TSPLA third of GPs are aged over 50. Picture: TSPL
A third of GPs are aged over 50. Picture: TSPL

The call from the British Medical Association comes amid new figures that show a slight dip in the number of GPs working in Scotland in the past year along with unprecedented pressures on frontline services.

With around a third of GPs in Scotland aged over 50, increasing the number of new recruits coming through medical school is now a priority across the UK.

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However, concerns have been raised that students perceive general practice to be a lesser career route than hospital medicine, such as surgery, with claims that universities are also squeezing resources for training of GPs.

Dr Alan McDevitt, chair of the BMA’s Scottish GP committee, said: “We are very concerned that the number of practising GPs has started to decrease in Scotland.”

A separate BMA Scotland survey of GPs recently showed that a third of respondents were considering retiring in the next five years and that six per cent were considering moving abroad.

McDevitt said: “This situation is unsustainable and the Scottish Government must ensure that general practice receives direct support and funding to make it an attractive career option for doctors, otherwise we could soon be in a situation where we do not have enough GPs to deliver effective care to patients.”

Official figures released by ISD Scotland last month show that, overall, there are 25 fewer GPs working in Scotland in 2016 than the year before, although there are 315 more than in 2006. These figures must be set against the backdrop of an extra 257,000 patients registered in 2016 than in 2006, with the number of patients aged 65 and over rising from 839,000 to just over 1 million in the same period.

Dr Ken Lawton, a former chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) Scotland and a senior clinical lecturer at Aberdeen University, argues that changing healthcare demands and complex conditions now offer new opportunities for general practitioners in medicine, such as disease management.

“It is a time of great opportunities. We are the last people in medicine who have a full skills set and that is how I sell the profession to students,” he said. “No two days are the same and that is the exciting thing about being a GP. Hospital work is becoming increasingly specialised but with general practice you can use your whole basket of skills and help the whole person.”

Health Secretary Shona Robison said the number of GPs working in Scotland has increased by 7 per cent under the SNP government. She added that £2.5m is being spent on investigating the issues surrounding GP recruitment and retention.