South Scotland

Fears over a shortage of GPs in Dumfries and Galloway

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Dumfries and Galloway could face a serious shortage of GPs unless 25 new recruits are hired by the end of next year, BBC Scotland can reveal.

About 19% of the workforce of 132 family doctors in the region will need replaced before December 2016.

In addition to the 11 posts which are currently vacant, 14 GPs are expected to retire within 18 months.

Some doctors already work long hours "under considerable pressure", according to the local health board.

Senior members of the medical professions claim the situation is likely to be reflected across the rest of Scotland, unless urgent action is taken to improve recruitment and retention of GPs.

The staff shortages emerged in a survey of GP practices conducted by NHS Dumfries and Galloway earlier this year.

It found that some posts have been vacant for longer than a year and, despite their best efforts, some vacancies attracted no applicants.

Practice managers also said they faced "extreme difficulty" in finding locums.

At least one surgery had to cut back on the services it offers to patients.

An NHS spokeswoman said: "Practices affected by vacancies commented on the extreme difficulty in finding locums and described the pressure of working under considerable pressure with fewer doctors."

She added: "It is remarkable that most surgeries affected by staff shortages have continued to provide the same volume and quality of services to their patients with many GPs working longer hours.

"While patients may experience some delay in obtaining an appointment, we have no indication that the shortages are affecting the quality of patient care."

The NHS board called on the Scottish government to move to reduce the red tape in surgeries.

"The government is negotiating a new contract for GPs: it is hoped that the new contract will remove considerable bureaucracy from practices and allow GPs to spend more time using their medical skills with their patients," the spokeswoman said.

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Case study: Castle Douglas Medical Group

Four doctors have retired from Castle Douglas Medical Group over the last two years.

In a bid to allow staff more time to handle its recruitment issues, it will hand back its responsibility of providing in-patient cover at the town's hospital to NHS Dumfries and Galloway at the end of June.

It has also stopped providing private medical examinations and it has hired three locum doctors.

In a newsletter for patients, practice manager Campbell Watt said: "These decisions have been difficult to make but have been necessary to ensure that we as a practice remain focused on our primary objective of being your main point of contact in relation to your general health care."

He added: "Although we have advertised for replacement doctors, we have found it extremely difficult to recruit replacement GPs.

"This is not a problem exclusive to CDMG, but rather a problem which the whole of the United Kingdom is experiencing."

Earlier this year the BMA warned of a crisis facing the GP workforce, after their own poll revealed that a third of family doctors are considering retiring.

Dr Alan McDevitt, chairman of the Scottish GP committee, said the experience of surgeries in the south-west of Scotland was a "worrying insight".

He added: "Our own national survey of GPs found that doctors were concerned that the pressures of their workload was affecting the quality of care for their patients.

"Doctors also felt that the workload pressures were too great and one in three said they were hoping to retire in the next five years.

"As well as trying to keep GPs working in the NHS, we need to encourage young doctors to choose a career in general practice and to do that, we need to make the job attractive.

"The first step will be to help GPs find a way of managing their workload and reducing bureaucracy. The situation in Dumfries highlights the urgency of the need for action."

The local NHS board has recently set up a dedicated recruitment website, in an effort to attract more health care professionals to the region.

The website is currently advertising for GPs in Lockerbie, Moffat, Kirkcudbright and Gatehouse, Stranraer and Dumfries.

'Boost recruitment'

Health officials are also drawing up plans to target their recruitment efforts in Holland and Ireland.

A Scottish government spokesman said it is committed to supporting GP recruitment and retention and the number of family doctors has increased by 7% during its term of office.

He added: "This issue is not unique to Scotland, however, we realise it is vital that we continue to work with health boards and the medical profession to develop short-term recruitment initiatives as we look to develop more attractive medical career pathways. The BMA is a key partner in this work.

"We are also working with the Scottish GP Committee to review the contract in Scotland over the next two years and have already agreed a period of financial and contractual stability for practices between now and April 2017 while we do this work.

"In addition, we are continuously examining steps to boost recruitment and increase retention - including a returners' package run by NHS National Education Scotland, and by providing additional funding to practices for population growth every year."

Have you been affected by the GP shortage in Dumfries and Galloway? How can the local health board attract GPs to work in the south-west of Scotland? Get in touch by emailing us at or tweet us @BBCSouthScot.

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