Scotland could face a shortfall of more than 900 GPs within five years if current trends continue, RCGP Scotland has warned.
If the Scottish population grows at the highest estimate of predicted growth, 915 extra GPs will be needed to preserve coverage per head of population at 2009 levels.
Even at the lowest predicted rate of population growth 563 more GPs will be required, with a significant boost to recruitment needed to fulfill even this target, the college said. Its analysis highlighted official statistics showing that Scotland gained just 35 new full-time-equivalent GPs between 2009 and 2013.
The report comes as a ComRes poll revealed that more than a third of Scots are struggling to book a GP appointment within 48 hours, despite such a target still being in use by the Scottish Government, having been scrapped in England in 2010.
The poll further revealed strong support from the Scottish public to increase funding for general practice, with a 61% majority feeling that the extra £40m primary care fund announced by the Scottish Government last year should go directly towards frontline GP services.
Commenting on the findings, RCGP Scotland chair Dr Miles Mack, said the Scottish Government had ‘not yet faced up to the crisis’ in Scottish general practice, accusing it of ‘directly contradicting’ its own workforce statistics with claims of increasing GP numbers.
He said: ‘These findings are very worrying indeed. There is clearly a desperate need for all Scottish politicians to put general practice at the front of their thinking and announcements and to emulate the commitments for England that political leaders there have given regarding sourcing and funding a much larger GP workforce.’
Dr Mack further criticised the Government for not yet determining how to spend the £40m primary care fund announced in November, warning that GPs ‘cannot wait’ any longer for action to be taken.
He said: ‘Almost six months is a reasonable amount of time in which to consider the many options RCGP Scotland and others have suggested for the fund’s use. The Government must now be transparent with their plans. Ministers have, so far, repeatedly referred to the fund in media and Holyrood debates. In order to plan effectively, GPs need to know where the funds are, how they are planned to be delivered and where they will be spent.’
NHS England, Health Education England, the RCGP and the GPC announced a joint £10m, ten-point plan for how to boost GP recruitment and retention in January this year, although this received a lukewarm reception from the profession and the GPC said it was only a first step in tackling the GP workforce shortage England.