Official figures suggest that the number of doctors in Scotland has fallen significantly, with 90 fewer whole-time equivalent (WTE) GPs in 2015 compared to 2013.
This revelation has emerged as part of the recently published Primary Care Workforce Survey.
According to figures from the survey, there were 3,645 WTE GPs in Scotland in 2015; a decline from 3,735 in 2013.
This represents a drop of nearly 2.5%.
It is notable that the situation in nursing is a stark contrast to that of doctors, with the number of nurses in general practice actually increasing over the same time period.
The number of WTE nurses in general practice elevated by 2% in the time period (from 1,420 to 1,455) and WTE healthcare support workers increased by 23% (300 to 365).
This suggests that the Scottish health service has been putting adequate provisions in place with regard to some areas of staffing.
Aside from the reduction in the number of doctors, it is also clear from the study that there are demographic issues for the health service to tackle as well.
Over one-third of GPs in Scotland are in fact over 50, although there is something of a gender divide with regard to this particular demographic.
Nearly half of male GPs in the nation (47%) are aged over 50, but only 29% of female GPs are in this age group.
Responding to the survey, Dr Alan McDevitt, chair of the Scottish GPC, and a GP in Clydebank, suggested that this indicates the level of challenge faced by general practice, and that the authorities must address the staffing issue sooner rather than later.
“This survey illustrates the extent of the problems that are currently facing primary care. GPs are choosing to leave the profession and those that remain are facing an increasingly unmanageable workload. Without significant funding invested specifically in general practice recruitment and retention, the situation will only get worse. Our members across the country are telling us of the rising pressure they are facing and the difficulties they are having trying to recruit to vacant posts. This is simply not sustainable.”
Dr Miles Mack, chair of RCGP Scotland, concurred, and indicated that the necessity to recruit GPs is even more marked than it was 12 months ago.
“We now need even more GPs than we did this time last year, despite the years in which our public campaign has been illustrating the situation to Scottish Government and receiving significant public backing. It is frustrating and worrying that those warnings have not been heeded. We are concerned that the 100 extra GP training places promised in October 2015, to start this current year, have not come about and that we have yet to hear a timescale for their delivery. 20% of last year’s training places went unfilled. We need urgent measures to make sure those places are available and taken up.”
Previous figures have suggested that GP numbers have also receded by a similar level in England.