Shifts unfilled as GPs put under ‘tremendous strain’

Young doctor and his patient talking about patients problems in doctors office.
Young doctor and his patient talking about patients problems in doctors office.
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GP leaders last night warned family doctors were under “tremendous strain” after new research suggested almost one in ten of out-of-hours shifts in surgeries are unfilled.

Data obtained from Scotland’s health boards indicated that 7.8 per cent of shifts in doctors’ surgeries at nights and weekends were vacant.

According to the statistics compiled by the Scottish Conservatives, more than a quarter of shifts were unfilled in NHS Forth Valley.

NHS Ayrshire and Arran had the second highest proportion of unfilled shifts with 16.4 per cent of shifts unfilled. Seven per cent of shifts in NHS Lothian were unfilled and 4 per cent in Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

NHS Grampian also had seven per cent of shifts unfilled while for NHS Lanarkshire the figure was 11.6 per cent. NHS Tayside had a vacancy rate of 4.8 per cent and NHS Borders recorded 4.5 per cent.

The Tories used Freedom of Information legislation to obtain a snapshot of out-of-hours cover during a week in May.

Last night Dr Miles Mack, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners Scotland, said: “GPs across Scotland are under tremendous strain as a result of over a decade of cuts to funding and an increase in demand for services. It is of real concern patients may not be able to access a GP as GPs play such an essential role in out of hours services. As with daytime services, such a lack of access could have knock-on effects for other areas such as Accident and Emergency Departments, where people may go should a GP not be available.”

Shadow health secretary Miles Briggs warned that rate of unfilled shifts would be even more problematic as the winter months approach.

“This is yet another indication of the GP crisis which is gripping Scotland. The NHS is on its knees in a number of areas, but that is particularly apparent in local GP practices,” he said.
“It means patients can’t get the help they need, and the hardworking doctors left behind are becoming increasingly over-stretched. With the winter months well on their way, this crisis could have even more severe consequences. The SNP government has let it get to this stage, and now has to explain what it is going to do to address it.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “NHS staffing has increased by almost 12,000 under this government. We recognise the particular challenges faced by out of hours services and remain committed to having a high-quality service which fully meets patient needs. That is why we invested £10 million last year and are providing further investment.”