GPs are facing the biggest workforce crisis in a generation, with the NHS "bleeding GPs at both ends of their careers", a doctor from a rural area has warned.

Dr Hal Maxwell, who works in Ballantrae, South Ayrshire, said more family doctors are needed if the current system is to survive in the long-term.

He told the British Medical Association annual conference in Harrogate yesterday that many colleagues were cutting back their hours "just to survive" while others were opting to leave the profession early because of workload pressure. A Scottish Government spokesman said the number of GPs had increased by 5.7% since 2006.

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But Dr Maxwell said one-fifth of practices near him had unfilled vacancies, adding: "Ballantrae and the surroundings are what many would refer to as a rural idyll, our income is commensurate with the Scottish average, our work is varied and interesting, yet we are struggling to recruit a doctor.

"For the first time in my working life we have 11 out of 55 practices in our county with a vacancy - that is 20% of our practices with a vacancy."