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Why is there a shortage of GPs – and could other Tayside surgeries be in danger of closure?

Ryehill Medical Practice will close in June

With news Ryehill and Friockheim health centres could be facing closure, patients in Tayside are concerned about their own GP services.

But could the Ryehill and Friockheim closures have a knock-on effect on other local surgeries?

Will your services be impacted if more patients move to your GP? And what is being done to address the issues?

We’re answering all your questions about the impact closures could have and the future for Tayside GP services.

Why are some GP surgeries facing closure?

Both Ryehill and Friockheim surgeries are facing potential closure because of staffing and recruitment challenges.

They say they are terminating their contracts to provide local health services because of a shortage of GPs.

Scotland, and the UK, has faced a shortage of GPs for many years.

In real terms, there are not enough GPs to adequately accommodate the number of patients who need to use their services.

For patients, this has meant longer waits for appointments and prescriptions, as well as prolonging diagnoses and essential treatment.

For GPs themselves, this has resulted in longer hours, a bigger workload and heightened stress.

Why is there a shortage of GPs?

According to Dr Andrew Buist, chair of the British Medical Association’s Scottish GP Committee: “Reasons include excessive workload, under-investment in primary care, perception of financial risk, some attitudes to general practice in society.

“Surgeries become non-viable when there are not enough GPs to look after the number of patients. For example, typically four full-time GPs might look after 6,000 patients.

Dr Andrew Buist.

“If one retires, one emigrates and one takes ill-health and the practice cannot recruit, then one GP cannot manage 6,000 patients.”

Could other surgeries in Tayside be at risk of closure?

Dr Buist says yes: “There is a significant risk (if those surgeries close) of a ‘domino effect’ as nearby practices who are also struggling are faced with managing thousands of extra patients.”

But NHS Tayside says there is no final decision yet on the futures of Friockheim and Ryehill surgeries.

Options include closing the practices and dispersing patients to other surgeries, or keeping them open run by either NHS Tayside or another group of GPs.

Friockheim Health Centre could close in May.

A spokesperson says: “Dundee Health and Social Care Partnership will now work to develop a number of options for the future delivery of primary care services. This work is at a very early stage.”

NHS Tayside currently manages health centres in Lochee, Maryfield, Whitfield, Brechin and Abbey in Arbroath.

What happens if patients move to my GP from a closed surgery?

If these local practices close, patients will need to get their primary care from a different surgery.

NHS Tayside says: “If dispersal of patients is the agreed final option, this would be agreed with GP practices that indicate they have capacity to take on additional patients.”

So, your surgery will only take on dispersed patients if it notifies NHS Tayside it is able to do so.

How is the GP shortage being addressed?

Responding to the news of the potential closures, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “There is now a record number of GPs working in Scotland with more per head in Scotland than in the rest of UK, and we are on track to deliver on our commitment of 800 additional GPs.

“We have now delivered every penny (£82.6 million) we committed to health boards and GPs as part of our ongoing commitment to help support practices deliver care and make the profession more attractive to newer generations of GPs.”

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