Scottish ministers face a “significant challenge” when it comes to increasing the number of GPs working in the country, the public spending watchdog has said. 

Audit Scotland said a range of initiatives to improve recruitment and retention “have had limited success to date”. 

The Scottish Government aims to increase the number of GPs in Scotland by at least 800 over the 
next decade.

But in a report just published, the watchdog indicated current projections will see this target fall short by about 660.

Dr Alasdair Forbes, deputy chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said existing GPs are struggling. 

He said: “In our recent report, From The Frontline, we stated 37 per cent of GPs feel so overwhelmed by their daily tasks they feel they cannot cope at least once per week. And 26% of GPs told us they are unlikely to be working in general practice five years from now. This situation cannot be allowed to continue.”

Audit Scotland said expanding the primary care workforce is central to the Government’s 2020 vision of delivering more care at home and in the community.

However, services face growing demand from an ageing population and an increase in the number of people with multiple chronic conditions.

The watchdog said there is “a lack of national data on the current numbers in the workforce, workforce costs, activity and demand”, which “makes it difficult to plan the workforce effectively or to monitor the impact of major policy changes”.

People aged over 75 are projected to be the fastest-growing age group in Scotland, while the number of patients registered at a GP practice is increasing. More than one in three GPs are aged 50 or over, alongside more than half of nurses employed 
by practices.

Shadow health secretary Miles Briggs said: “The GP crisis in Scotland has occurred on the SNP’s watch and things don’t look like they’re going to get any better.”

Caroline Gardner, the Auditor General for Scotland, said: “Scotland’s primary care workforce is under pressure and operating in an uncertain climate. That makes detailed planning for the future even more important. 

“To date, the Government has introduced major policy changes without a reliable basis for its plans. It now needs to get a much clearer picture of the workforce and set out detailed plans addressing how its initiatives will improve patient care and deal with future demand 
on services.”