MORE than 20% of training posts for family doctors are unfilled this summer because junior medics are scared off by stress and intense workload.
The critical situation means that surgeries are struggling to fill vacancies for qualified GPs and 65 training posts due to start this summer lie vacant.
Experts have said the worrying figures “pose a significant threat to general practice”, and medical bodies have expressed their concern about the crisis.
Some practices have even collapsed because they were unable to replace doctors who left or retired.
Surgeries in health board areas such as Lothian, Dundee and Fife have had to restrict the patients they take on to their lists because they are reaching capacity.
And now 21% of training jobs in general practice starting in Scotland this summer have been left unfilled.
Dr Elaine McNaughton, deputy chairwoman of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) in Scotland, said: “These figures confirm the critical nature of the recruitment situation that poses a significant threat to general practice.
“Although there are many factors contributing to this trend that we should seek to understand, action must be taken immediately, where possible, to rectify it.
“RCGP Scotland believes that repeated yearly cuts in funding to general practice sends out a very negative signal.
“How can such a message do anything other than prompt a prospective student to question the future of the profession?”
Over the past few years, the number of GP training positions taken has steadily dropped from 96% in 2012 to 78% this year.
UK-wide, slightly more GP training vacancies have been filled this summer at 80%.
Last week the Scottish government announced a £50m investment over three years to address workforce issues in general practice.
This was welcomed by the RCGP, though it said the shortage of doctors requires a “much larger response”.
The Scottish General Practitioners Committee (SGPC) of the British Medical Association had also issued warnings about staff shortages and the pressure on GPs.
Dr John Kyle, who represents training issues on SGPC, said: “It is very disappointing that increasing numbers of trainees are no longer seeing general practice as an attractive speciality.”
He felt the intense workload shouldered by family doctors as they cope with rising numbers of frail elderly patients was one factor deterring recruits.
He added that they may have heard older GPs talking about retiring early amid high workloads, stress and burn-out.
Addressing workload and giving more junior doctors the opportunity to experience general practice at the start of their careers were among the remedies he proposed.
The number of slots for trainee GPs was increased in 2013 to 305 but NHS Education for Scotland, which oversees recruitment, has never managed to fill them all.
Last year 270 people were recruited; this year 240.
Health Secretary Shona Robison said: “Under this Government, we have the highest staffing levels ever…however, we recognise there are recruitment and retention challenges.
“We know that is true for general practice – and while we would expect these fill rates to improve…we are working with the profession to make general practice as attractive a career choice as possible.”