Dundee’s doctor’s surgeries are in crisis — as the city struggles to find enough GPs to serve its patients.
A special Tele investigation can reveal that more than a third of the 25 practices in the city have at least one GP vacancy.
One senior doctor has revealed: “It’s the worst it’s been in 20 years.”
And he has told how some practising GPs are ready to hand back their keys to the NHS.
Figures show there are 10 vacant GP posts across Dundee.
Wallacetown Family Medical Group has space for eight doctors, but is running only with six.
Tay Court Surgery, Ancrum Medical Centre, Taybank Medical Centre, Ryehill Medical Practice, Nethergate Medical Centre, Lochee Health Centre and Stobswell Medical Centre each have one GP vacancy.
Some patients are waiting more than a week for an appointment.
Dr Andrew Cowie, chairman of Tayside Local Medical Committee and a GP at Hawkhill Medical Centre, said: “It’s the worst it’s been in the 20 years I’ve been working here.
“A recent survey of trainee GPs in Tayside showed that only three out of 20 stated they intended to stay in the area, which is incredibly low.
“We normally factor in about 50% of trainees who will stay in Tayside so figures like that are really scary.
“As far as I’m aware, Dundee has the only two formally closed lists in the country — when a practice is officially no longer taking on any new patients because it is no longer viable to safely look after more. I can confirm that there is one practice in Dundee and one in Angus seeking to return their contract.
“We have some practices that are working well, but there are others where they just can’t cope with the workload.
“It’s horrible when you get patients phoning up for appointments only to be told they can’t get one, and it’s a situation I am deeply uncomfortable about.”
Dr Cowie believes the reasons for the shortage were wide-ranging. He said: “Many medical students are choosing areas other than general practice.
“The reasons for that are complex, but one is the perception of a heavy workload. In some cases, GPs are having to work more than 50 hours per week.
“It is also difficult to persuade a 25-year-old medical student, with no roots in Dundee, not to take a job in Australia — which is one of several countries crying out for British-trained doctors — earning $300,000 and doing two-thirds of the hours they would be doing here. We are anxious about the future of general practice in Scotland.
“That said, if someone needs to be seen urgently, I can’t think of a practice which wouldn’t be able to cram them in.
“However, it is the people who don’t — the people who have something wrong but know it isn’t an emergency and don’t play the system — who are having to wait longer.
“We have practices where these people are now waiting in excess of a week.
“We appreciate them waiting but sometimes they could have benefited from being seen earlier.”
A senior source within the GP service in Dundee reflected Mr Cowie’s views. She said: “It’s absolutely awful. In 30 years, I’ve never seen things as bad as this.
“Nobody wants to be a partner in a GP practice anymore and you can’t get a locum for love nor money.
“It really is at breaking point and I’ve heard of some surgeries which are seriously considering handing the keys back to NHS Tayside and shutting up shop.”
Margaret Watt, chairwoman of the National Patients’ Association, said: “It has become a crisis, and we can’t afford to lose any more GPs.
“If these vacancies can’t be filled, it impacts even more on patients.
“It is important to note that this is not the fault of the GPs, they are working very hard to try to cover the shortfall.”
A spokeswoman for NHS Tayside said: “All boards across Scotland are facing a current national shortage of GPs and NHS Tayside is no exception.
“We are actively supporting our GP colleagues through innovative models of primary care as a result of the emerging integrated joint boards through health and social care integration.
“An example of such an emerging model would be the Whitfield Local Care Centre which is a new multi-purpose facility from which health, community, social and leisure services are delivered under one roof, in the heart of the community.”