GPs inundated with demand and struggling to cope, warns BMA Scotland

GPs are being “inundated” with demand during the Covid-19 pandemic and are struggling to cope, a leading doctor has warned.

GPs are inundated with demand, Dr Buist said.
GPs are inundated with demand, Dr Buist said.

The pandemic has taken its toll on General Practioners, said Dr Andrew Buist, chair of GPs at the British Medical Association Scotland.

He warned that as lockdown restrictions eased after the first wave, many members of the public expected surgeries to go back to normal, leading to increased demand.

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But while the pandemic continues GPs are not able to operate as before, meaning demand for appointments is often far outstripping the ability of surgeries to keep up.

GPs are under huge pressure, Dr Buist said.

Dr Buist said one practice in Dundee reported 392 calls in one day, with just four GPs to handle demand.

One Lothian surgery reported a 25 per cent increase in consultations in June 2020 compared to the year before.

A GP in Glasgow said they dealt with 211 consultations in a typical week in October, more than double the number in the same week in 2019.

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Other surgery staff including receptionists, practice managers and practice nurses are also overwhelmed, Dr Buist said, with many having to bear the brunt of the public’s frustration at difficulty contacting the surgery.

“I think many of my colleagues are really being pushed to the very limit of what they are capable of and that General Practice is at risk of being overwhelmed if demand keeps rising over the course of what will be a really tough winter,” said Dr Buist.

GPs have staffed Covid community clinical assessment centres and remote triage hubs during the pandemic, forming a “protective ring around hospitals”, Dr Buist said.

They have also had to cope with adapting to new ways of seeing patients virtually, with the added difficulty of trying to diagnose virtually without missing a crucial physical clue.

"The sheer mental burden of the challenges we face to still do the very best we can for patients, while worrying about the risks to ourselves and our families is exhausting,” he added.

He also called on the Scottish public to be understanding when faced with delays at GP practices.

“Public expectations of what GPs can do in normal times are rightly high. We are a crucial service and despite everything we are still doing everything we possibly can to care for patients,” he said.

"But equally I hope we can all be understanding to GPs and practice staff about the very real challenges we all face to care for people effectively while guarding against Covid.”

Patients around the country have voiced frustration at not being able to get appointments with GPs.

Residents in East Lothian created a petition in October for easier access to their surgery.

Staff at the practice said they were experiencing an “unprecedented high level of calls” and that staff were working extra hours to deal with the demand.

They added that there had been a rise in abuse directed towards the team from a small number of patients as a result of delays, and asked locals to be patient.

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