MEDICS have branded a 3% fall in the number of full-time GPs in Scotland “hugely worrying”, as capacity dips to its lowest level since 2009.

It comes amid a looming winter NHS crisis which Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has warned could be the worst on record.

A GP workforce survey published by Public Health Scotland revealed the number of whole-time equivalent (WTE) doctors decreased from 3613 in 2019 to 3494 in 2022.

It is thought the drop is the result of women GPs being more likely to work part-time compared to their male counterparts.

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The estimated WTE, which is based on 37 or more hours per week being full-time, for nurses in medical practices was 1690. This is the same as the previous survey conducted in 2019.

The figures also show more than a third of GP surgeries are struggling to recruit, while a quarter also reported nursing vacancies.

Dr Andrew Buist, chair of the British Medical Association Scotland’s GP Committee, said: “These are hugely worrying statistics that starkly illustrate the mismatch between demand and GP capacity in Scotland that we have warned of for some time.

“Put simply, this means there is less GP capacity available to care for the people of Scotland than at any point since 2009, at the exact time we are seeing a substantial increase in the demand for care – driven by an increasing and ageing population and ever-lengthening waiting lists.

“It should be little surprise on that basis that some practices are collapsing, with GPs cutting hours or leaving the profession due to workload pressures and patients struggling to get the care they need.

“This is a vicious circle, as the more pressure increases the less manageable or bearable working as a GP becomes for those left working in practices – forcing them in turn to cut hours or leave.

“I believe we really are at a tipping point for GPs and practices in every single area of the country and we need urgent action and support.”

He said Scottish Government pledges to increase the GP workforce by 800 by 2027 must be matched with investment to grow the WTE workforce.

Health Secretary Yousaf said: “We remain committed to increasing the number of GPs in Scotland by at least 800 by 2027.

“I would like to repeat my thanks to all GP surgery staff who have worked tirelessly to support so many during the pandemic and as we start to recover from it.

“To support GP practices, we have recruited more than 3220 healthcare professionals since 2018 and are committed to investing at least £170 million a year on growing primary care multi-disciplinary teams.

“We will increase the number of GP speciality training places by 35 in 2023. This is on the back of another successful round of recruitment this year with a 98% fill rate. For comparison, there was an 86% fill rate in 2020.”

Scottish Labour raised concern that the Government could fail to reach its 2027 target, and urged Yousaf to “get a grip” on the crisis.

The National: Jackie Baillie in Holyrood

The party’s health spokesperson Jackie Baillie (above) said: “It’s no wonder general practice is at breaking point in Scotland when pressures are piling up but GP numbers are falling.

“The pandemic might have taken this crisis to new heights, but the SNP have been failing to act for years.

“They have ignored warning after warning and have failed to provide the reassurance that they will deliver on the crucial pledge to increase GP numbers, and that this in turn will be sufficient to relieve the pressures faced by primary care."

“Humza Yousaf needs to get a grip on the chaos engulfing general practice before any more damage is done.”