BMA Scotland: General practice “running on empty”

by BMA Scotland media team

Press release from BMA Scotland

Location: Scotland
Published: Friday 1 December 2023

GPs in Scotland find their unmanageable workloads, and inability to meet the needs of their patients with the current resources available to them, the worst aspects of being a GP BMA Scotland revealed today.

Ahead of his sixth, and final speech to the Scottish Local Medical Committee (SLMC) conference, Dr Andrew Buist, chair of the BMA’s Scottish GP Committee, said that these negative aspects of the job are driving doctors away from general practice – and will use his speech to urge the Scottish government to commit to improving investment in core general practice to safeguard its future.

A survey on the future of general practice, conducted recently by BMA Scotland, further revealed that although many still believe being a GP can be a professionally rewarding job, the negative aspects are driving the workforce away – including:

  • The lack of priority given to investment in GP services.
  • The unwarranted criticism of general practice where the inability to get a GP appointment is seen as the GP’s fault.
  • The unmanageable workload.

In his speech tomorrow, Dr Buist is expected to say: “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.

“These GP shortages mean – simply – there are not enough GPs to meet the needs of the people of Scotland. Demand for service far outstrips capacity, and there is a general practice sustainability crisis in Scotland with many GPs working beyond the limit of what is safe. As well as impacting GPs, this is harming the experience that patients have with their practice and the level of care they receive. 

“General practice has been under resourced for years now. Without the proper funding, numbers of GPs will continue to drop – and the impact is nearly always greatest where general practice is needed more: in particular areas of higher deprivation and areas of low population density. Underinvestment in core funding to general practice directly creates GP workforce problems – leading to the loss of partnerships and practice closures or mergers.

“It is worth noting that in the last 10 years the Scottish population has increased by 7% - while the number of practices has reduced by 9% and average list sizes have increased by 18%. Workload pressures mean it is becoming increasingly unattractive to be a GP partner – and the model of general practice as patients have previously come to know, based on continuity of care and access to a GP who knows them, is threatened. 

“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. But without it, we simply cannot give the people of Scotland the level of care they need and deserve.

“So, once again 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. If we want a sustainable NHS, one that will still be around in 25 years, now is the time – this cannot be avoided any longer.”

Notes to editors

In total there were 1021 responses to this survey which was conducted in November.

The methodology of the survey asked respondents to rank the options in order to get a “weighted score” rather than percentage – for example, if there were 10 options for a question, each option would get 10 points for every respondent who ranked it number 1, nine points for every respondent who ranked it number 2, and so on – that number is then divided by the total number of responses in order to get the weighted score. The higher the score, the more frequently it was ranked highly.

Asked what the worst aspects of their career as GPs currently are, respondents weighted highly:

  • The unmanageable workload. (weighted score = 10.56)
  • Inability to meet the needs of their patients with the current resources available to them. (weighted score = 10.42)
  • The lack of priority given to investment in GP services. (weighted score = 9.64)
  • The unwarranted criticism of general practice where the inability to get a GP appointment is seen as the GP’s fault. (weighted score = 9.09)
Contact Information