Scots health ministers warned on rise in out-of-hours demand

5 Aug 15

Scottish ministers are being warned of a mounting crisis in health provision after new figures showed the number of out-of-hours GP consultations last year to be approaching a million.

Cabinet health secretary Shona Robison said the figures demonstrated the importance of maintaining cover outside normal GP hours. “The statistics show, for the first time, the key role GP out-of-hours services play in Scotland, with nearly 900,000 patients seen and almost one million consultations carried out last year,” she said.

The Scottish Government has commissioned a review, headed by Aberdeen University’s Professor Sir Lewis Ritchie, into out-of-hours provision in the light of changing demographic and demand patterns, and Robison said the new figures would help inform this.

But health professionals and opposition politicians saw the figures as evidence of growing resource pressures within the system. Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Willie Rennie warned of a “looming crisis” in out-of-hours services.

He said: “We have the prospect of a vicious circle where increased pressure on our remaining GPs will make it harder to recruit and retain doctors in this crucial area of medicine, increasing the workload again and putting further strain on GPs and accident and emergency services alike.”

The National Operations Group, which speaks on behalf of all the services involved in out-of-hours cover, said the service was finding it hard to cover work rotas, and that its resilience was being compromised because everyone involved was already working at full stretch, leaving them unable to switch roles in line with demand from patients.

Almost a fifth of those receiving out-of-hours attention are aged over 75, and the Royal College of Nursing said that the complexity of elderly patients’ needs added to the challenge of providing effective out-of-hours services.

The Royal College of General Practitioners predicted in April that Scotland could, on present trends, find itself up to 900 GPs short by 2020.

  • Keith Aitken
    Keith Aitken

    covers Scottish affairs for Public Finance from Edinburgh. He was formerly economics editor and chief leader writer on The Scotsman and now has a busy freelance career as a writer, broadcaster and event chair.

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