Scottish GPs forced to turn away patients

More and more Scottish GP surgeries are turning away new patients. Picture: Jayne Wright
More and more Scottish GP surgeries are turning away new patients. Picture: Jayne Wright
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GROWING numbers of GP practices in Scotland face having to turn newcomers away due to rapidly rising patient lists, doctors have warned.

Dr Alan McDevitt, chairman of the British Medical Association’s Scottish GPs Committee, said the increase in new housing developments without a rise in medical provision was putting pressure on existing surgeries.

He said the problem was compounded by difficulties recruiting new GPs, with the prospect of some practices being forced to close in future due to lack of staff.

His comments came as the BMA’s annual conference in Harrogate heard concerns that patients could face longer waits to see their GP as practices dealt with rising demand.

Research by The Scotsman has identified a number of health boards reporting GP practices with restrictions on their patient list.

These include practices labelled as “open but full” meaning they do not have formally closed lists, but only accept registrations on a limited basis, such as from the family members of existing patients.

As of April this year, NHS Lothian reported having 19 practices with restricted lists, while NHS Fife had nine. Grampian also reported having three “open but full” lists.

Dr McDevitt said once a practice declared itself “open but full”, it put pressure on surrounding practices to take on more patients. He said: “You can get a cascade effect. If you’re the last practice still accepting patients you can have too many patients coming in and then you’re quickly very pressurised.

“Edinburgh has a particular problem at the moment with the expansion of new properties being built. There’s currently no mechanism to provide new medical services for those areas, so the practices near those areas will come under enormous pressure because of the numbers of people..

“There is a growing problem, not helped by the growing recruitment and retention problem in general practice. A lot of these practices wouldn’t be able to take on a new doctor even if they wanted to.”

Where a patient cannot find a practice to take them, the health board can force a surgery to put them on their list, at least on a temporary basis.

Dr Dean Marshall, a GP in Dalkeith, said his practice had been forced to operate an “open but full” list for the last six weeks. “We have a rising population. This has been coming for at least a decade, and successive governments and health boards have ignored it. They don’t know what to do,” he said.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The number of GPs in Scotland has increased by 5.7 per cent since 2006. There are more GPs per head of population in Scotland than in England, and we also spend more on GP services per head of population.

“In addition, we have successfully negotiated a General Medical Services contract for 2014/15 which will substantially reduce targets and bureaucracy for GPs.”