Health cri­sis looms with a third of GPs quit­ting ru­ral ar­eas

Scottish Daily Mail - - News - By Vic­to­ria Allen Scot­tish Health Re­porter vic­to­ria@dai­ly­

THOU­SANDS of pa­tients in ru­ral Scot­land are set to lose their fam­ily doc­tor.

A sur­vey has warned that more than a third of coun­try GPs sur­veyed plan to leave their post within five years.

And within a decade more than half will have re­tired or moved else­where, ac­cord­ing to the study by a Dundee Univer­sity re­searcher.

The find­ings have prompted de­mands for the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment to ad­dress re­cruit­ment is­sues for GPs in re­mote and ru­ral surg­eries and try to at­tract re­place­ments from ur­ban ar­eas.

How­ever, there are fears for the im­me­di­ate fu­ture, with 40 per cent of GPs well be­low re­tire­ment age plan­ning to move for rea­sons in­clud­ing iso­la­tion, work­load pres­sures and trans­port links.

Re­spond­ing to the sur­vey, Lib­eral Demo­crat health spokesman Jim Hume said: ‘This would have a dev­as­tat­ing blow on Scot­land’s ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.

‘Many of them rely on lo­cal doc­tors be­cause there aren’t acute ser­vices nearby.

He added the SNP needs to lis­ten to the Royal Col­lege of Gen­eral Prac­ti­tion­ers (RCGP) ‘and com­mit to fund more ru­ral train­ing places’.

Sarah Mills, a clin­i­cal lec­turer at Dundee Univer­sity, re­vealed the loom­ing short­fall yesterday at the an­nual RCGP con­fer­ence in Glas­gow.

She said re­cruit­ment in ru­ral Scot­land had reached ‘ cri­sis’ pro­por­tions, with 56 per cent of doc­tors sur­veyed com­plain­ing they could not get tem­po­rary cover and al­most half stat­ing they could not re­cruit medics.

Dr Mills, a GP trainee, said: ‘A lot of the neg­a­tives about work­ing in ru­ral ar­eas are lo­gis­ti­cal – there is no broad­band or mo­bile phone sig­nal and peo­ple can’t con­tact their fam­i­lies.

‘But the big­gest prob­lem which came up, cited by three in four peo­ple, is iso­la­tion. In many cases that is pro­fes­sional iso­la­tion, with a lot of GPs un­der pres­sure to pro­vide more and more ser­vices and skills for their pa­tients while al­ready over­stretched. They also said that in ru­ral ar­eas they are ef­fec­tively on call 24/7, so they might not be in their surgery, but it never stops.’

Across the UK, the Gen­eral Med­i­cal Coun­cil re­ported a 15 per cent fall in ap­pli­ca­tions for GP train­ing be­tween 2013 and 2014. The num­ber of GPs per head of pop­u­la­tion has slumped since 2009, with the Royal Col­lege warn­ing of a view in some med­i­cal schools that be­com­ing a GP is seen as a ‘sec­ond- class’ form of medicine.

How­ever the prob­lem is great­est in ru­ral ar­eas, with some Scots health boards forced to ad­ver­tise abroad for med­i­cal cover. NHS Dumfries and Gal­loway warned last month a quar­ter of its doc­tors could re­tire in the next three years.

The Dundee Univer­sity online sur­vey, which had 191 re­sponses, found ru­ral doc­tors strug­gle with trans­port, with long dis­tances be­tween home vis­its. Only 5 per cent said there were no down­sides to be­ing a ru­ral GP.

Dr Mills said: ‘‘We need more GPs and the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment should look at ways to pro­mote ru­ral gen­eral prac­tice, to en­cour­age stu­dents from ru­ral ar­eas to study medicine, to im­prove stu­dents and ju­nior doc­tors’ ac­cess to ru­ral GP train­ing, and to sup­port GPs who are al­ready work­ing in ru­ral ar­eas.’

Health Sec­re­tary Shona Ro­bi­son said: ‘We are com­mit­ted to con­tin­u­ing to sup­port, build upon and sus­tain gen­eral prac­tice in Scot­land and welcome cre­ative re­cruit­ment ex­er­cises, such as those un­der­taken by NHS High­land to at­tract health pro­fes­sion­als to live and work in re­mote and ru­ral ar­eas.’

‘Dev­as­tat­ing blow for com­mu­ni­ties’

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