One in four Scottish GP practices left with vacancies, survey reveals

Credit: This story was first seen on the BBC

More than one in four GP practices in Scotland has a vacancy for a doctor, the BBC reports.

The latest survey from the British Medical Association shows little change in the number of unfilled posts, despite a Scottish government recruitment drive launched last summer.

The crisis in GP recruitment is a problem across the UK.

With increasing workloads, fewer young doctors are choosing general practice.

The Scottish government has pledged more money and launched a recruitment drive but the BMA survey suggests these measures are not yet bearing fruit.

There are 963 GP practices in Scotland. More than half (514) responded to the BMA survey.

Of those, 26.46% reported a vacancy.

BMA Scotland said the rate in some areas was much higher, with Fife (35%), Lanarkshire (38.7%) and Dumfries and Galloway (41.67%) having particularly high rates of vacancies.

Grampian had a vacancy rate of 47.37% but the response rate to the survey was low.

Respondents reported a total of 171 open vacancies spread over 133 practices.

The survey showed 97 of those vacancies (72.9%) had been open for more than 6 months.

The NHS’s own Primary Care Workforce Survey will not report until later in the year.

The latest figures, for 2015, showed a total 3,645 whole-time equivalent GPs in Scotland.

BMA Scotland’s GP committee chairman Dr Alan McDevitt said: “The fact that more than one in four GP practices in Scotland had a vacant position in this snapshot survey is extremely troubling. It indicates that the recruitment and retention problems in general practice are not improving.

“Every unfilled vacancy puts more and more strain on remaining GPs who must struggle to cover the gaps in their practice while also coping with increasing demands on GP services.

“The BMA is currently negotiating a new contract for GPs in Scotland, and addressing recruitment and retention issues is one of our top priorities. However, there is much more work to do to ensure that general practice is an attractive career choice for doctors.”

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Health secretary Shona Robison said: “We have delivered a record number of NHS staff – an increase of over 12,200 whole time equivalent since 2006. This includes the highest proportion of GPs per head in the UK.”

She said the Scottish government would invest a further £500m in primary care by the end of this parliament.

Ms Robison added: “I recently set out that £250m of this new investment will be in direct support of general practice, helping to transform the way services are delivered in the community – an approach that was agreed with the British Medical Association.”

“In this financial year, over £71m of that funding is to support general practice by improving recruitment and retention, reducing workload, developing new ways of delivering services and covering pay and expenses.”

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Donald Cameron criticised the Scottish government’s “shambolic” workforce planning.

He said the vacancies would have a “very direct impact on vulnerable people” and put additional strain on GPs.

Scottish Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar said the vacancies meant people were not getting the care they deserved.

The BMA is running a “speed dating” event on Saturday to try to match up practices with GPs.

But there are twice as many practices going along as doctors.