‘Overstretched’ GPs say Scots patients losing out

NINE out of ten GPs believe that their “unsustainable” workload is having a damaging effect on patient care, a new survey by doctors’ leaders has found.

A survey said many of Scotland's GPs feel their workload hits the quality of patient care. Picture: Getty

Three-quarters of family doctors in Scotland who took part in the British Medical Association (BMA) 2015 national survey said the amount they have to do “at times has a negative impact on the quality of care” patients receive.

Scotland has the highest proportion of GPs in the UK who cited this concern, with a further 17 per cent of GPs north of the Border stating that their workload “significantly negatively impacts” on the quality of care they are able to deliver.

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The survey found 60 per cent of Scots doctors described their workload as being “generally manageable” but “too heavy at times”, while a quarter said it was “unmanageable”.

Dr Colette Maule, co-­negotiator of the BMA’s Scottish GP committee, said: “This survey reflects the immense pressure that GPs working across Scotland are feeling just now.

“The rising workload is simply unsustainable and something has to change, otherwise general practice will break.”

The majority of respondents called for longer consultation times, as only 8 per cent thought ten minutes was sufficient time per patient consultation.

Doctors also stressed the need for more GPs and increased core funding for practices.

Dr Maule said: “Giving us more time with patients, expanding the GP workforce and supporting the practice-based primary care team will help to ensure the quality of care our patients receive remains of a high standard.

“In addition, providing stable funding arrangements to meet the rising costs of providing increasingly complex care in the community will alleviate some of the helplessness that GPs are clearly feeling just now.

“Politicians need to stop fixating on how they can demand more from general practice and instead focus on what they can do to support GPs to provide the quality of care that our patients deserve within the constraints that exist.”

A total of 1,844 doctors took part in the research, which ­represents 37 per cent of all GPs in Scotland.

Health Secretary Shona Robison defended the Scottish Government’s record on supporting general practice, and argued that individual practices determined their own appointment and consultation arrangements.

She said: “The recently agreed new GP contract in Scotland will give general practice financial stability, reducing the bureaucratic burden and freeing up GPs to spend more time with patients. The length of a consultation will vary depending on the clinical needs of the individual patient and is a matter of professional judgement for the GP.”

The Scottish Government has increased spending on GP services by £69.7 million or 10 per cent, and increased the number of GPs by 6.9 per cent, said Ms Robison. However, Dr Jean Turner, executive director of the Scotland Patients Association, said the system had become a “conveyor belt” where patients were being rushed in and out while stretched GPs tried to cope.

She said: “When you have an ageing population, on one hand it is a success story as it shows that everybody in general practice is doing a very good job at helping people to live longer.

“But because of that, people are presenting with more complex conditions, and it takes longer for a GP to assess what is wrong, while looking out for symptoms for cancer and other things.

“Patients should be treated with dignity and respect, and it isn’t fair to rush them, particularly when they are elderly.

“But these pressures will start to take a toll on patient care.”

Dr Turner, who worked as a GP in Glasgow for more than 25 years, said: “For years GPs have been taking on work from ­hospitals but the money does not seem to flow into general practice.

“It has been hard enough to recruit GPs recently and this will only make it worse.

“I feel sorry for young doctors who are starting out, for people who want to come into the profession, and above all for patients themselves.”

She warned against treating the NHS as a “political football” and urged politicians to deploy resources as advised by ­clinicians, rather than “throwing money at the problem ­senselessly”.

The organisation revealed last month that Scotland is facing a GP recruitment crisis as almost a fifth of practices reported a ­vacancy.

Surgeries were also failing to secure locum cover to bridge the gap.