Four out of five GP practices say they are failing to keep up with demand from patients – despite a survey suggesting family doctors carried out more than 500,000 appointments in one week alone.
The figures come from a new survey of general practices across Scotland carried out by the British Medical Association.
It also found that in 88% of practices, at least one member of staff has been subjected to verbal or physical abuse in the last month and 78% said the situation has worsened since May.
A total of 375 surgeries across Scotland took part in the BMA Scotland survey, which is 41% of GP practices.
Those practices carried out 221,420 consultations between October 4 and 8, with BMA Scotland calculating that over the course of the same week there were more than 500,000 GP appointments across Scotland.
These would have been face-to-face, virtual and telephone appointments, but BMA Scotland stressed all the practices it surveyed carried out in-person appointments every day.
Dr Andrew Buist, chair of the BMA’s Scottish GP Committee, warned: That number of appointments is straining our workforce and GPs and their teams simply cannot sustain this indefinitely.”
Of the practices taking part in the survey, 83% said demand for appointments exceeds supply, with 42% saying demand “substantially exceeded capacity”.
More than a quarter (28%) of practices had a least one GP position vacant, and BMA Scotland estimates that could mean as many as 225 whole-time positions are unfilled across the country.
Dr Buist said: “It comes as absolutely no surprise that the vast majority of GP surgeries are saying there is simply not enough capacity to meet demand. Indeed 42% say capacity is substantially below what is required to meet demand for care.
“While this is in part, of course, due to increased demand, it is also clearly because we don’t have enough GPs.”
Dr Buist said that in 2017, the Scottish Government had committed to recruit 800 more GPs, and he added the results of the survey make this action “all the more urgent”.
He said there needs to be a “renewed focus on retention and recruitment of GPs so we can boost overall numbers”.
With the coronavirus pandemic “still well and truly ongoing”, he said it is “not hard to see why there is huge pressure on GP appointments”.
Dr Buist said: “To put it another way – the 500,000 appointments in general practice per week is still not enough to meet current patient demand in Scotland.
“I appreciate difficulty getting an appointment can cause understandable frustration at times, but it can never be acceptable when this spills over into abuse, which our survey shows is still happening and indeed may be getting worse.
“We need to be absolutely clear, once and for all, that this is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We now have a record number of GPs working in Scotland with more per head in Scotland than in the rest of UK.
“We are pleased that trainee recruitment this year has so far been the most successful year of any of the last five with 99% of GP training posts having been filled so far, with one recruitment round remaining, and we continue to develop our strategy for both recruitment and retention of our workforce.
“The NHS recovery plan highlights that staff recovery is critical to our collective ambitions for renewing our NHS and is supported by an investment of £8 million this financial year in measures to support the physical, mental and emotional needs of the workforce.
“Patients need to see the right person at the right time and these appointments are not just with GPs. That is why in 2021-22 the Primary Care Fund is increasing from £195 million to £250 million in direct support of general practice and will see expansion of multi-disciplinary teams in and around practices to ease GP workload and support access to a wide range of services for patients.
“As the Health Secretary recently announced, we will invest up to a further £28 million in primary care services this year, which will underpin a range of measures including accelerated multi-disciplinary recruitment to support general practice.”
On abusive behaviour towards the GP workforce, she added: “Any kind of abuse directed towards our health service staff is totally unacceptable. They have played a pivotal role in our battle against the pandemic and deserve our gratitude and respect.”