DOCTORS are warning a recruitment crisis is threatening services in GP surgeries and out-of-hours medical centres in Scotland.
Concern that it is becoming increasingly difficult to fill vacancies are to be raised by GPs from many different parts of the country at a major medical conference for family doctors in Glasgow.
Delegates attending next week's conference are expected to agree the workload shouldered by GPs is unsustainable, and demand more resources from the Scottish Government to help them cope.
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Doctors in Grampian are among staff from seven health board areas who have submitted motions to the British Medical Association conference raising concerns about a shortage of GPs. Their motion states: "This conference is dismayed by the increasing recruitment difficulties facing general practice in many parts of Scotland, and is concerned by the stress put on GPs who are left to cover these vacancies."
Other motions warn that services to patients are being threatened by the shortages, that out-of-hours clinics "have been unable to recruit adequate numbers of doctors to fill shifts" and "that primary (community medical) care is not sufficiently resourced".
Dr Mary O'Brien, deputy chair of the BMA local medical committee conference and a Tayside GP, said: "The pressure on GPs in hours and the intensity of the work has increased exponentially over the past five years.
"The length of the day has extended not just because of extended surgery hours, but because the workload is so tough. Increasingly many GPs are in at 7am and not getting out until 7pm at night. A lot of GPs go in at weekends to try to catch up.
"This has affected recruitment particularly in remote areas. General practice is not an attractive job for young doctors any more."
Dr John Ip, Paisley GP and secretary of Glasgow local medical committee, said a "recruitment crisis" hit out-of-hours GP centres in the west of Scotland last summer, with Glasgow, Ayrshire and Arran and Lanarkshire struggling to cover shifts. Borders and Forth Valley have encountered similar issues in the past year, he said. "There were unfilled shifts and the danger is centres are not manned safely. The risk is services will have to close."
Dr Ip said he had heard of experienced doctors leaving the out-of-hours service because of workload intensity. He added: "Like other services in the NHS, the intensity of work in the out-of-hours period is increasing, people are sicker and the time of day does not dictate when people are sick."
The Herald reported last month that NHS Ayrshire and Arran had failed to find a replacement for an island GP, despite three recruitment drives. The health board has spent £433,000 in the nine months to the end of December last year - or £48,111 a month - in salaries for 11 different locums for Cumbrae.
Last week Dr Neil Dewhurst, the outgoing president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, spoke out about the "almost intolerable pressure" on hospital staff amid the growing elderly population.
Looking after more frail people in the community is seen as the answer to relieving pressure on hospital services, but GPs are concerned about the level of hospital work they are absorbing.
The Herald is campaigning for a review of capacity in the NHS and social care with a view to planning the staff and resources required to cope with the ageing population.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said Health Secretary Alex Neil had written to the Scottish General Practitioners' Committee to discuss ideas about how best to improve the current situation.
She also said that the number of GPs had increased and that negotiations on the General Medical Services contract would mean a reduction of bureaucracy.
The spokeswoman added: "We fully recognise the critical role of GP out-of-hours services and understand the pressures these services can experience. That is why our £50 million unscheduled care action plan includes out-of-hours primary medical care alongside every element of unscheduled care in Scotland."