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‘Perfect storm’ facing Moray medical practices, say GPs

In the past 16 years, the number of practices in Moray has fallen 25% from 16 to 12.

A picture of a GPs desk with a medic on a keyboard of a computer. Also on the table is a blood pressure machine and a stethoscope.
Mounting problems are creating a 'perfect storm for Moray GPs. Image: Shutterstock.

Crippling energy bills, difficulty recruiting staff and growing hospital waiting lists are combining to create a “perfect storm” for GP practices in Moray.

An ageing population with more complex medical conditions and a fall in the number of practices are adding to the “significant and prolonged” pressure on doctors.

From 2007 to 2023 across Grampian the number of GP practices dropped from 84 to 69 – an 18% reduction.

But in Moray there has been a 25% fall over the same period from 16 practices to 12.

‘Perfect storm’

Forres GP Dr Malcolm Simmons and Dr Robert Lockhart from Maryhill Group Practice in Elgin outlined the problems at a recent meeting of the Moray Integration Joint Board (MIJB).

Dr Lockhart told members there had been a “significant and prolonged period of pressure” on practices in Moray and across the country.

He said: “The net effect of this is primary care feels more unstable than I’ve ever experienced before.

“We’ve felt locally in Moray, and locally in Elgin, what happens when practices close.

Maryhill practice in Elgin has taken patients from the Elgin Community Surgery and runs the surgery in Rothes. Image: DC Thomson

“It has a wide ripple effect on the health and social care system and its difficult to absorb that.”

“The threat of primary care becoming unstable, and potentially running into serious problems, could have huge and far reaching impact for health and social care.”

Two years ago Maryhill took on patients from Elgin Community Surgery when the GP contract was in danger of being handed back to the health board.

Also, the Elgin practice has run the surgery in Rothes since 2014 when the Speyside town’s doctor retired.

Huge and far-reaching impact

Dr Lockhart added he was frustrated with the 2018 GP contract, which he feels is not suited for rural communities and not backed by most GPs in Grampian.

Problems recruiting in Moray has resulted in funds for expanding the workforce to take pressures of GPs being withdrawn.

Also as they are unable to access a reduced energy tariff available in other parts of the country, Grampian practices have no help with the increased costs of gas and electric.

Since 2007 the number of GP practices in Moray has fallen from 16 to 12. Image: Shutterstock

Dr Malcolm Simmons said: “Not only are we short of the staff that we need to provide health care to our communities, but the Scottish Government, I’m afraid, has withdrawn the funding and taken that back.

“Not having the staff doesn’t make the work go away. The work and the demand is still there.

“Like households across the country, practices have been facing huge increases in utility bills.

“It puts additional pressure on practices – it cripples what we’re trying to do.

Only 12 GP practices in Moray

“When you can’t help staff, when you can’t provide services to patients, when you don’t have the money to pay staff fairly … you’ve got a perfect storm unfortunately.”

NHS Grampian has reduced GP funding from 7.8% of its operating costs in the financial year 2019-20 to 7% in 2021-22.

However, spending on other services has increased by 18%.

Dr Simmons warned members not to ignore the problems facing GPs in Moray.

He said: “If a practice collapses, hands back its contract and moves to a fully employed model, what your talking about is a model that is much more expensive and less efficient.

Crippling utility bills

“There will be problems with continuity of care and probably more problems accessing the care you need.

“The scope of this is huge, and we’ll not be able to solve these problems quickly or easily.

“But I think general practice has a responsibility to look at its own identity, how it can get that message across and how it can help people access its services more effectively.

“There needs to be a wider awareness that if general practice fails, the problems will reach everyone.”

Vice chairwoman of Moray Integration Joint Board Tracy Colyer.

Following efforts by local GPs, the board will lobby the Scottish Government to address issues disproportionately impacting practices in Moray.

Councillor for Keith and Cullen Tracy Colyer is also vice chairwoman of the MIJB

She said: “I think all GPs and their staff do incredible work, but our primary care is under tremendous pressure.

“The feeling is that they are not able to offer the treatment and care they would like and their patients need.

“And of course nothing can be done without more money from the Scottish Government.”