Like many other Scottish males in good health, I’m not a regular visitor to the doctor’s surgery.
But in the past few weeks I’ve found myself in a number of health centres speaking to GPs about the mounting pressures they’re facing.
From Dingwall, across the Highlands to Kyle of Lochalsh and back closer to home in Govan, doctors told us about the challenges over staffing and changes to their roles.
What came across clearly from each of them was a genuine concern that the future of General Practice as we know it is under threat because of more than a decade of cuts to their share of NHS funding.
Some have already been forced to reduce the number of appointments they offer, while others are struggling to fill vacancies for staff who have left or gone on maternity leave.
The Royal College of GPs has long warned of a recruitment crisis, but this week it ramped up the pressure on the Scottish Government by accusing them of treating GPs as “dispensable.”
The chair of the RCGP Dr Miles Mack said that patients “have every right to worry” and that budget cuts would lead to access to GPs getting much worse.
These are strong words from an organisation that is feeling the strain, and when we broke the story it certainly caused waves.
Their aim is to force ministers to reveal exactly what they have in store for future services.
Will the GP still be the first point of contact for people contacting a surgery? What about the relationship built up between a doctor and their patient? Will that be lost, and if so, at what cost?
Dr Miles Mack, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners
The Scottish Government says talk of the service being eroded is wrong. It says it is committed to supporting primary care and the work of GPs.
There is a pilot project underway in Inverclyde that is looking at how the role of GPs can “refocussed”, with a number of health professionals working together in clusters.
The Health Secretary Shona Robison told us on in a Scotland Tonight special that she wants to work with the profession to make access easier for patients and recruit more GPs.
She said the reason she wants to change the role of GPs so they can spend more time with their patients is to help overcome some of the recruitment issues.
As part of our discussion on the programme from a GP’s surgery in Glasgow, the health journalist Pennie Taylor said, “I actually think that now is the time that we need fundamental change to the way we deliver primary care in Scotland. We’ve got to be about partnership working and one of the challenges for me is that GPs are independent contractors to the NHS.
“That doesn’t sit well in a new world where people are expected to work in partnership across a wide range of agencies, and I think there is a real challenge there about ceding some power for the benefit of Scotland’s patients.”
As Dr Euan Paterson told us at his surgery in Govan, a solution to all of this won’t be easy to find.
“If I had the answer I would say this is the answer, do it now. I don’t have that, and that’s what keeps me awake at night, because I don’t know.”
“As somebody who is now in their late 50s I’m conscious that I’m going to need this, I’m going to need healthcare, I’m bound to need healthcare. I’m certainly going to die at some point, and there will probably be a bit of morbidity before I do that, and I want somebody to help me through that, and I’m worried about whether that will be there.”
The STV News at Six report: