BMA SCOTLAND: Spiraling demand pushing GPs to the brink

by BMA Scotland media team

Press release from BMA Scotland

Location: Scotland
Published: Wednesday 26 May 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has left GPs in Scotland at breaking point with unmanageable workloads and serious concerns about the level of support they will receive to care for patients as the NHS seeks to recover from the past 15 months, a BMA Scotland survey has revealed.

The survey of 669 GPs across Scotland also found that GPs and their practice staff are facing unacceptable abusive behaviour from members of the public – with almost 9 out of 10 (87.7%) saying they or their staff have been subjected to verbal or physical abuse in the past month alone, and almost two thirds (65.9%) saying it has deteriorated  since the beginning of the pandemic.

As a result, around 70% of GPs surveyed have said they are now more likely to take early retirement or leave the profession altogether.

The survey also found that:

  • Almost three quarters (73.3%) say they are struggling to cope, and their work is having a negative impact on their physical and mental wellbeing.
  • Two thirds (66.8%) say their current workload is unmanageable, with more than half (57%) saying it has gotten worse since the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • 3% are seriously considering cutting the sessions they currently work.
  • 62% feel they are unable to achieve a good work/life balance, with almost 40% saying this is impacting their lives outside of work negatively.
  • 8% lack confidence that the plans for NHS recovery will support GPs and their ability to care for patients
  • Less than 1 in every 3 GPs (27.8%) would definitely recommend General Practice as a career – more than a third (34.3%) would not, while the remainder were unsure.

Dr Andrew Buist, chair of the BMA’s Scottish GP Committee, said:

“The results of this survey make for extremely difficult – and disappointing – reading. GPs in Scotland are at breaking point with ever-increasing workloads: we are still involved with the vaccination programme roll-out and staffing COVID assessment centres as well as trying to ensure those patients in our communities with greatest need get the care they require.

“Let’s be clear and absolutely put to bed the damaging myth that GP practices have been closed during the pandemic. Yes, we’ve had to clinically assess people differently – but all the evidence suggests that means we are working harder than ever.

“We are desperately short of GPs in Scotland and at a time when our resources and capacity is finite, we need to ensure we make best use of our working day – that includes triaging patients over the telephone first so that we can prioritise those with the highest level of need, much in the same way as happens in hospitals. Additionally, we continue to require infection control measures and physical distancing in our buildings – some of which are simply not designed to make this possible, which means remote consultation prior to attendance must remain to ensure our waiting rooms do not have too many patients in at any one time – putting the safety of everyone involved at risk.

“The current situation is causing frustration among members of the public, which is understandable to a point as they see Covid cases at low levels in many areas of the country and expect access to GP to return to exactly as it was before. However, no matter how challenging this is for us all, it is utterly unacceptable that GPs and their practice staff are being subjected to verbal or physical abuse – this, coupled with unmanageable workloads and a poor work/life balance will of course have a real impact on GPs and their staff’s mental and physical wellbeing. We are only human after all. And it will therefore have a negative impact on the numbers of GPs remaining in or joining the profession across Scotland unless it is addressed with real urgency.

“This pandemic has taken its toll on all of us. There is no quick fix for the imbalance between demand and capacity GPs currently face – but there are some steps that can be taken now. We urgently need reassurance from the Scottish Government that General Practice will be adequately supported as we recover from this pandemic: we need their support to ensure that public messaging around the work of general practice is consistent and honest. GPs can only work within the limitations we face right now, and we need the Scottish Government, and indeed all politicians, to be clear and realistic in their messaging about just what is possible for GPs at the moment. We also need an unambiguous statement from our political leaders that the public must be patient and understanding and that abuse of health and social care staff trying to do their best in difficult circumstances is unacceptable. We need to step-up the pace of transformation  to fully implement the 2018 GMS contract, including a renewed focus on recruitment of staff from across professions to work as part of practice teams; and finally we need national support for practice Protected Learning Time for GPs and their staff to reflect on the changes brought about by the pandemic, and for planning and recovery of their services going forward.

“Looking longer term; Scotland was promised 800 additional GPs by 2027, we need the new Health Secretary’s recommitment to that as quickly as possible, along with a clear understanding of what workforce we have now and how plans to increase the number of GPs will be achieved as part of a comprehensive workforce plan.”

Notes to editors

The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.