Overworked GPs blamed for cuts to out-of-hours clinic service
Paul Gray, chief executive of NHS Scotland, said clinics operating between the hours of 6pm and 8am often face ‘short-term closures’ as bosses struggle to find enough GPs to cover shifts.
He said out-of-hours centres would close if there were fears over ‘patient safety’, forcing would-be users to travel elsewhere.
Writing in his annual report on the state of Scotland’s NHS, Mr Gray said around 850,000 patients access out-of-hours care every year – with more than a million consultations. However, he warned that a lack of staff was forcing health centres to cut services, heaping pressure on those that remain open.
His comments angered doctors last night, with Mr Gray accused of failing to recognise the growing pressure on GPs due to staff shortages.
Surgeries across Scotland are struggling to fill vacancies, with one in four practices reporting empty posts and some forced to pay more than £1,400 a day to provide cover.
Mr Gray said: ‘Over the last few years, out-of-hours services have faced a number of challenges – mainly due to a reduction in the pool of GPs willing to work in the service. This has often led to short-term closures of out-of-hours centres.
‘The decision to close centres is Deputy Scottish Political Editor always taken on the grounds of patient safety. However, closures put further pressure on out-of-hours staff and the home visiting service, and often mean that patients are asked to travel further.’
Mr Gray’s comments sparked anger, with critics arguing that GPs are facing growing recruitment pressures. Some surgeries have been forced to close – leaving patients without a family doctor.
British Medical Association Scotland GP committee chairman Andrew Buist said: ‘It is only by solving the recruitment and retention challenges in general practice as a whole that we can expect to solve this issue in out-of-hours services.’
Mr Buist said that the new GP contract introduced in April is set to address the ‘unmanageable workloads that GPs face’.
Reliance on out-of-hours services will spike over the holiday period.
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Mile Briggs said: ‘This sadly reflects the predicted shortage of over 900 GPs that Scotland now faces due to the inability of the SNP to properly support primary care.
‘The SNP must listen to the Scottish Conservative campaign to “Save our Surgeries” and invest 11 per cent of the health budget in GPs.’
A Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘We are working to increase the number of GPs by at least 800 over ten years, including steps to support recruitment and retention in rural communities.
‘We have also successfully negotiated a new GP contract, backed by investment of £110million this year, to stabilise income, reduce workload, and improve patient care.
‘Asked to travel further’