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Recruiting GPs in Scotland is a ‘significant’ challenge, says watchdog

The Scottish Government faces a ‘significant’ challenge in recruiting more GPs to the area, according to public spending watchdog Audit Scotland.

The watchdog has put this down to pressures on the healthcare system such as an ageing clinical workforce and problems with recruitment and retention.

It also said the Government’s plans to expand GP training, in addition to training nurses and midwives, are ‘on track’ but it is not yet clear if the number of training posts will translate to the amount of staff employed in primary care on the ground.

The audit evaluated the planning behind the recruitment of GPs in Scotland and found the Scottish Government had been ‘slow’ in their progress because of a ‘lack of clarity’ of who is responsible for making decisions.

The report also said there was a lack of national data on workforce numbers, stating that this makes it difficult to plan the workforce ‘effectively’ or monitor the impact of the new GMS contract.

Caroline Gardner, the auditor general for Scotland, said: ‘Scotland’s primary care workforce is under pressure and operating in an uncertain climate. That makes detailed planning for the future even more important.

‘To date, the Scottish Government has introduced major policy changes without a reliable basis for its plans. It now needs to get a much clearer picture of the workforce and set out detailed plans addressing how its initiatives will improve patient care and deal with future demand on services.’

BMA Scottish GP Committee deputy chair Andrew Cowie said: ‘It is no secret that Scotland desperately needs more doctors in general practice, and with not enough doctors choosing this as a career path, and more senior doctors retiring early or cutting down their working hours, it is difficult to see how the Scottish Government is going to meet its target of an additional 800 GPs to the current workforce.

‘On that basis, it is worrying to see the level of work the Scottish Government needs to do on this.’

RCGP Scotland deputy chair for policy Dr Alasdair Forbes said: ‘Audit Scotland reinforces our call that policymakers need to plan the workforce based on whole-time equivalent figures, and not headcount, to ensure accuracy in the planning and reporting of recruitment efforts. Only by doing this will effective steps be able to be taken to reverse a trend of declining GP capacity in Scotland.

‘We agree with Audit Scotland that reforming primary care is complex and challenging. Scotland’s population is getting older, bringing with it more complex care needs within communities, and more people with multiple long-term conditions. Against this, there is a decline in the number of whole-time equivalent GPs and a decline in the number of GPs who are partners in their practices, often because of severe workload pressures.

’The Scottish Government needs to urgently improve its understanding of future demand for services, and how efforts to improve training, recruitment and retention of GPs will meet estimated demand.’

Figures recently showed more than eight in 10 training posts have been filled in the country so far.