Health crisis looms with a third of GPs quitting rural areas
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’