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GP workforce shortages led to out-of-hours closures over 100 times in one city

Exclusive Out-of-hours centres in Glasgow were closed on more than 100 occasions over a 12-month period due to a lack of GPs, data collected by Pulse shows.

In response to a freedom of information request, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said in the year leading up to May 2018, there were 106 closures among their eight primary care emergency centres because there was no GP cover.

Patients would have been able to access other out-of-hours centres or a home visiting service, the health board said.

Local newspapers reported that on one Sunday night in June – after the time period covered by the FOI response – a shortage of GPs left only one out-of-hours centre open in the region and patients being asked to go to A&E.

A spokesperson for NHS GGC – the biggest health board in Scotland covering 1.2 million patients and employing a quarter of the NHS Scotland workforce – said the challenge of funding GPs willing to cover out of hours was not a unique one.

In 2017, a group of GPs raised concerns about the future of an out-of-hours service run by NHS GGC at the Vale of Leven Hospital after repeated closures meant patients having to travel 25 miles to access the service.

In response to the concerns, NHS GGC said they were facing significant challenges staffing out of hours across all eight of their services.

The health board said it was continuing to review how best to deliver a sustainable GP out-of-hours service in the longer term.

A spokesperson added: ‘The review is ongoing and is part of a wider discussion on how to enhance the overall out-of-hours health and social care services for all our patients.

‘Patients are reminded not to attend a GP out-of-hours service without first calling NHS 24 who will direct them to most appropriate healthcare service for their needs.’

Out-of-hours services across Scotland are struggling to staff rotas partly due to a knock-on effect from GP shortages in the daytime.

NHS Fife has cut overnight primary care services at three hospitals for a trial period of three months because they were unable to cover shifts.

BMA figures collected in 2017 suggest more than one in four practices have a vacancy.

The Scottish Government has made a commitment to boost the number of GPs by 800 over the next decade and has proposed a recruitment campaign to attract doctors from the rest of the UK.

BMA Scotland GP Committee chair Dr Alan McDevitt said the figure was not surprising given the challenge of GP recruitment and retention faced in Scotland.

‘It is important the health board plans effectively to ensure that patient care is safe and effective for the period when out of hours services are not operating.’

He added: ‘Longer term, it is vital that work continues to ensure that working as a GP is an attractive career choice, and that we focus on retaining the GPs we already have.

‘While not specifically concerned with out-of-hours care, the new GP contract demonstrates the significant efforts being made in this area, which must be built on, along with action to make sure out of hours primary care is sustainable across Scotland.’

Last year, a Pulse investigation found that out-of-hours services across the UK are increasingly stretched with one in 10 providers had no overnight GP cover, with increasing numbers of GPs in Wales refusing to do out-of-hours shifts because of unsafe working.

Another Pulse investigation, carried out earlier this year, revealed a 26% increase in the number of serious incidences reported by GP out-of-hours services to UK commissioners last year, with GP leaders warning that they are no longer a ‘safe pace of work’ and that there is an ‘urgent crisis’ in the service.