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20 June 2016, 05:49
The lack of GPs in Scotland has been described as "extremely concerning'' by the British Medical Association (BMA).
A survey by the union found 28.5% of Scottish practices had at least one GP vacancy as of June 1, an increase of 2.5% in three months.
The increasing vacancy rates are putting more strain on remaining GPs who have to cover the gaps in their practice while also coping with increasing demands on services, the BMA warned.
Health Secretary Shona Robison said it was necessary to "redesign the way care is provided in the community to ensure these services are sustainable in the future''.
Dr Alan McDevitt, chair of the BMA Scottish GP Committee, said: "The fact that over 28% of GP practices in Scotland had a vacant position in this snapshot survey is extremely concerning. It shows that the recruitment and retention problems in general practice that we have been warning of are continuing to get worse.
"The Scottish Government can no longer talk about record numbers of GPs in Scotland. The vacancy rate shows that there are simply not enough doctors to meet the demands being put upon general practice.
"Every unfilled vacancy puts more and more strain on remaining GPs who must struggle to cover the gaps in their practice while also coping with increasing demands on GP services.
"The Scottish Government urgently needs to commit to improving recruitment and retention, as well as to increased funding to general practice.
"We are currently working with the Scottish Government on a new contract to make general practice a more attractive career choice, but it will take time to deliver more GPs. The Scottish Government must take immediate and effective action to support GPs who are facing significant challenges in maintaining quality services for patients under increasingly difficult circumstances.''
Ms Robison said: "We are committed to supporting and developing local GP and primary care services, and working with stakeholders, including the BMA to do so. We have pledged to increase the number of GPs working in our NHS.
"Last year we confirmed an extra 100 GP training places to encourage more medical students into the profession, and an increase in our support for return to practice schemes that bring experienced GPs back into the health service.
"We know there are still challenges in recruiting and retaining doctors to work in general practice. While Scotland continues to have the highest number of GPs per patient in the UK, we still need to act now to redesign the way care is provided in the community to ensure these services are sustainable in the future.
"That means transforming primary care and GP services - increasing the role that other health professionals play in delivering care and making it much more of a team approach, allowing GPs to focus on those patients specifically in need of their expertise.
"We have also allocated #20 million over the next year to ease some of the immediate challenges facing the GP workforce. We will also continue our work with the profession to negotiate a new GP contract for 2017, which will be instrumental in delivering our shared vision for the future of GP services.''