Calls for ‘minimum’ of 15 minutes for GP appointments

RCGP Scotland says ‘unique and irreplaceable’ role of GPs under pressure

Wednesday 5th June 2019

GP appointments should be extended from ten to at least 15 minutes long, the Royal College of General Practitioners Scotland (RCGP) say.

RCGP Scotland believes this would reduce risk and ensure patients’ needs are met, but would only be possible with an increase in the number of GPs and a reduction in their current workload.

In a report published today the family doctors’ group warns GPs’ ‘unique and irreplaceable’ role is under pressure as stress and workload challenges mean increasing numbers of doctors are opting to leave the profession. 

A quarter of Scottish GPs say they are unlikely to be working in general practice in five years’ time.

The Scottish Government says there’s a record number of GPs working in Scotland and numbers per head of population are higher than elsewhere in the UK.

Under the new contract, GPs’ roles are changing so they become ‘expert medical generalists’ supported by a broad medical team that will take on some of the tasks traditionally reserved to doctors.

It’s hoped this will free up their time to focus on essential patient needs.

Many of the doctors surveyed for today’s report said they were concerned the current appointment length was simply not long enough and could lead to risk and uncertainty.

One GP surveyed said: “The vast majority of our patients (the ones we actually see) have increasing multi-morbidities and it is simply not sustainable to meet these needs in a 10-minute consultation – yet to give them the time they need means running over time which adds to stress.”

“It is necessary to work very significantly in excess of a manageable working day. Without more doctors to share the work load it seems unlikely to improve,” another reported.

To pay for more family doctors, RCGP Scotland is calling for 11% of the NHS budget to be dedicated to general practice, claiming Scotland ‘lags far behind’ England and Northern Ireland.

It’s also suggested the Scottish Government’s commitment to recruit 800 additional GPs could have less impact than hoped for, because more GPs are choosing to work part-time.

Using whole time equivalent figures and targets would be a better measurement, the College says.

Elsewhere, the report calls for GP training to be lengthened, pointing out training is still three years long despite other specialities being higher and the ‘increasing complexity of what it means to be a GP.’

RCGP wants at least a four-year competency-based scheme embedded in practice.

Another ‘significant challenge’ is a ‘culture of negativity towards general practice’ in medical schools, with 76% of students surveyed saying they had encountered negativity towards general practice by their fifth year of study.

The Scottish Government says it will consider the issues in the report and work with the college on the next phase of the GP contract.

A spokesperson said: "Health and equalities are at the core of everything we do and we are committed to addressing the underlying causes that drive health inequalities. Our bold package of measures to help tackle issues such as smoking, obesity, inactivity and alcohol misuse will support people to live longer, healthier lives.

“We are also tackling the wider causes of health inequalities through measures such as investing in affordable housing, providing free school meals and continuing to provide free prescriptions and personal care.

“We now have a record number of GPs working in Scotland with more per 100,000 population in Scotland than rest of UK and we are increasing the number by a further 800 over the next decade. We are also committed to 11% of funding going into primary care and to investing £250m in direct support of general practice by the end of the current Parliamentary period.”