GP crisis in Scotland: BMA warns of ‘tipping point’ and calls for urgent funding

GPs ‘running on empty’ amid unmanageable workload and lack of investment

A new survey by the British Medical Association (BMA) Scotland has revealed the alarming state of general practice in Scotland, with doctors reporting unmanageable workload, lack of investment, and inability to meet patients’ needs as the worst aspects of their careers. The survey, which was conducted among 1,021 GPs, found that 89% of respondents rated their workload as unmanageable or unsustainable, while 86% said they were unable to meet the needs of their patients within the resources available. The lack of priority given to investment in GP services (84%) and the unwarranted criticism of general practice (81%) were also among the top concerns.

The survey results were presented at the Scottish Local Medical Committee (SLMC) conference on Monday, where Dr Andrew Buist, the chair of the BMA’s Scottish GP committee, delivered his sixth and final speech. Dr Buist warned that general practice was at a “tipping point” and urged the Scottish Government to take immediate action to safeguard the future of the sector.

“General practice is running on empty in many parts of the country – and GPs working so hard on behalf of their communities are exhausted and burnt out,” he said.

Population growth and GP shortage put pressure on the service

Dr Buist highlighted the challenges faced by general practice in Scotland, such as the increasing and ageing population, the rising demand for complex and chronic care, and the shortage of GPs. He said that while the Scottish population increased by 7% in the last decade, the number of GP practices had reduced by 9% and average list sizes had increased by 18%. He also noted that the Scottish Government’s commitment to increase the number of GPs by 800 by 2027 was not enough to meet the current and future needs of the service.

GP crisis in Scotland

“We have reached a tipping point in general practice and I believe we are in serious trouble. The independent contractor GP model has served us well for over 70 years and, if properly funded, could serve Scotland for many more decades – but core general practice desperately requires more funding to meet the population needs, and is the key action to take pressure off secondary care services,” he added.

BMA calls for national conversation on the future of NHS Scotland

Dr Buist also called for the Scottish Government to initiate a national conversation on the future of NHS Scotland, involving the public, the professionals, and the politicians. He said that such a conversation was necessary to address the expectations and realities of the health service, and to ensure that general practice was valued and supported as the cornerstone of the NHS.

“I am calling for the Scottish Government to come good on its commitment to having a national conversation on the future of Scotland’s NHS – an honest, mature discussion, consulting the public on what they want from their health service,” he said.

He also urged the Scottish Government to implement the recommendations of the BMA’s report on the future of general practice, which was published in October. The report outlined 12 key actions to improve the service, such as increasing funding, expanding the workforce, reducing bureaucracy, and enhancing digital infrastructure.

Scottish Government responds to the BMA’s concerns

A Scottish Government spokesperson said that they recognised the pressures faced by GPs and that they were committed to supporting them. The spokesperson said that they had invested £155 million in general practice in 2023-24, and that they had increased the number of GP training places to 500 per year. The spokesperson also said that they had introduced a new GP contract in 2018, which aimed to reduce workload and improve patient care.

The spokesperson said: “We value the vital role that GPs play in our NHS and we are working closely with the BMA and other stakeholders to ensure that general practice is sustainable and fit for the future. We are also engaging with the public and the health and social care sector on the future of health and social care in Scotland, as part of our national conversation on the NHS Recovery Plan.”

By Ishan Crawford

Prior to the position, Ishan was senior vice president, strategy & development for Cumbernauld-media Company since April 2013. He joined the Company in 2004 and has served in several corporate developments, business development and strategic planning roles for three chief executives. During that time, he helped transform the Company from a traditional U.S. media conglomerate into a global digital subscription service, unified by the journalism and brand of Cumbernauld-media.

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