National Association for Patient Participation

SCOTLAND Newspapers report practice closures

27 March 2017

Last week, The Times ran a story alarmingly-entitled ‘GP practices dying of neglect.’

It reported that one GP practice is now closing or returning its contract every month in Scotland because of staff shortages. Helen Puttick, Health Correspondent at The Times, warned, ‘Other practices are finding themselves on the brink of collapse as they struggle to fill vacancies and cover absence.’

We know that general practice faces two major challenges: squeezed funding and a huge shortage in the number of GPs.

We first saw the impact this was having in remote and rural practices across Scotland - so often the ‘red flag’ for the rest of the country. Then, in 2015, two surgeries closed in Forth Valley, which were then taken over by the local health board. According to The Times, ‘since then health boards have stepped in at least 14 times, including in three practices which have announced they are to close in the past two weeks.’

A practice in Ayrshire and Arran recently collapsed. The partners stated that the ‘running of the practice with the present funding stream has become impossible.’

In Glencairn Medical Practice in East Ayrshire, doctors said they were giving up with ‘immense sadness’ because shortages of staff and money meant that they could not maintain clinical standards.

Responding to these closures, Dr Miles Mack, Chair of RCGP Scotland, said plainly, ‘If anything shows the need to urgently inject increased and sustained funding into general practice it is this growth in the numbers of practices finding themselves forced to hand back their contracts to their health boards.’

Practices returning their contracts to health boards can have a significant effect on the care patients receive. Many struggle to get an appointment when they need it and they face uncertainty over the future of their local practice.

We believe that our patients deserve better.

We have been warning that a crisis in general practice has been looming for several years. In 2013, we launched our Put patients first: Back general practice campaign which called on Government to raise the percentage of NHS Scotland funding which general practice receives to 11%.

Our call has been strongly supported by GPs and patients. In November 2014, we delivered 21,000 signatures of support to Scottish Government.

A second public health consultant supported our argument in the Scottish Parliament, telling MSPs that ‘systematic disinvestment’ in GP services has caused a recruitment crisis.

Giving evidence to Holyrood’s Health and Sport Committee last week, Dr Eleanor Hothersall of Tayside Health Board, said ‘we don’t have the people, we don’t have the facilities there, through systematic disinvestment for a very long time at every level’. She continued, saying that the drive to move care into the community puts more pressure on primary care such as GPs ‘at a time when we have less and less ability to deliver the services there in the first place’.

The £250 million announced by the Cabinet Secretary on 10 March will go some way to answering our call and easing pressure on general practices. However, we await clarity on the proposals for delivery of the second half of the First Minister’s commitment that ‘By 2021, an extra half billion pounds will be invested in our GP practices and health centres.’

We are keen to see how the First Minister’s announcement will come to fruition.

If you want to find out what happens next with our campaign and how you can support us, sign up here and we will get in touch.


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