BMA Scotland: GP crisis “going to get worse” as wellbeing among profession suffers

by BMA Scotland media team

Press release from BMA Scotland

Location: Scotland
Published: Sunday 13 August 2023
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Scotland’s GPs are facing a “bleak” situation, with the current direction of travel meaning “things are only going to get worse” BMA Scotland GP chair Dr Andrew Buist warned today.

Dr Buist was speaking as the results from a recent BMA Scotland GP wellbeing survey revealed that just 5% of doctors who responded believe their practice is in a long-term sustainable position, with 60% indicating they fear for the future of their practice should they lose a GP. Nearly 1 in 3 say their practice is already in a precarious position.

More than 850 GPs responded to the survey with 43% of them saying there is no realistic chance in the near future of their practice being able to meet patient demand for access.

The results also highlighted:

  • Almost a third (30%) of those who responded say their practice is in a precarious position.
  • A further 5% revealed they have already or are actively considering handing back their contract.
  • A quarter of GPs are planning to leave their practice in the next two years, while three quarters say the last year has made them more likely to leave the profession entirely.
  • 28% say their workload is unmanageable.
  • 85% say they sometimes, or regularly, struggle to cope and work is having a negative impact on their physical and mental wellbeing – with 31% saying they are unable to achieve a good work-life balance and it is getting significantly worse over recent times.

Commenting on the survey results, Dr Buist said:

“These statistics show once again just how precarious the position is for practices and GPs themselves across Scotland. It is a very bleak situation, and already many GPs fear the practices they work in are simply not sustainable in the long-term – leading, of course, to further worry for patients about accessing care, and continuity of care.

“Significantly, our survey suggests this is only going to get worse given the current direction of travel, with a quarter of GPs saying they will leave their current practice in the next two years, and three quarters saying the last year has made them more likely to leave the profession altogether. That paints a very worrying picture for the future of GP services.

“The current demanding situation is taking its toll on GP wellbeing – generally GPs are a very robust group of people, but we are just human, and everyone has a limit. Concerningly 85% of those who responded to this survey said they sometimes or regularly struggle to cope, and that work is having a negative impact on their physical or mental wellbeing. That is a dreadful statistic and I want every doctor out there who is feeling this way to know they are not alone and there are support services available through the BMA regardless of membership.

“Already, 43% of GPs say their practice can’t meet demand and there is no chance of them doing so in the near future – unmanageable workloads and deteriorating work-life balance is no doubt pushing many out of the door and so I fear that figure could increase. All of this suggests a position that is likely to get much worse, with practices collapsing, handing back contracts and patient care suffering as a result.

“Without urgent action, we will see parts of Scotland become seriously under-doctored as many patients will struggle even more than they are right now to get appointments. This will lead to deteriorating continuity of care, something patients greatly value, and the potential for the breakdown of primary care in those areas.

“The Scottish government must take this situation seriously and show greater willingness for increased investment in core general practice services to maintain stability. And while there must be concerted action on the recruitment of more GPs – including the investment needed to support that in practices – crucially, action must be taken to retain the GPs we currently have and stop them from leaving the profession prematurely. It is no good recruiting 20 if you lose 25 in the process.

“We also need a complete reversal of the approach which has seen funding cut in recent times – this must include a proper funding uplift, including expenses and staff pay, unlike last year – otherwise the practices saying they’re unsustainable will increase again from already worryingly high levels.

“Finally, we need an urgent review of the 800 additional GPs target by 2027 – both to see how many more are now needed on top of that, and the progress – or lack of – in terms of reaching the target, and what must be done to get us back on track.”

Notes to editors

BMA Scotland ran a snap survey of its GP members – receiving 864 responses.

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