GPs closing twice as fast in rural areas than in the cities

NHS Grampian was among the areas the over four surgery closures per 100,000 people
-Credit: (Image: Getty)


GP surgeries in rural Scotland are closing at more than twice the rate of those in many central belt health boards, according to the Scottish Conservatives.

While every single health board in Scotland has fewer surgeries in 2024 than it had in 2015, official stats from Public Health Scotland show that the crisis in general practice is more acute in rural, remote and island areas.

During that nine-year window, the number of GP surgery closures per 100,000 people was 17.75 in NHS Orkney and 7.51 in NHS Western Isles. Lanarkshire, Highland, Shetland, Forth Valley and Grampian health boards also had closure rates above four surgeries per 100,000.

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In contrast, the comparable figure for NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde was 2.36, NHS Tayside was 1.92 and NHS Lothian 1.86. Ayrshire and Arran had the lowest closure rate in Scotland, at 0.86 surgeries lost per 100,000 people, writes the Scottish Daily Express.

The Scottish Conservatives said the figures were "further proof that rural Scotland suffers the brunt of SNP failures". The Tories have set out plans to recruit 1,000 additional GPs and want to introduce a moratorium against any further surgery closures, while pushing for others to reopen in order to "reverse years of centralisation".

Although the NHS in Scotland is fully devolved and will not be impacted by the result of a Westminster election, party insiders say it has been the number one topic on the doorsteps during the early days of the campaign.

And a strong vote for the Tories in Scotland next month would put pressure on the SNP government to consider the party's proposals on GPs.

Party leader Douglas Ross said: "These figures are a damning indictment of the SNP's mismanagement of Scotland's entire NHS – because in every part of the country there are fewer GP surgeries now than there were a decade ago.

"But they are also further proof that rural Scotland suffers the brunt of SNP failures – because the closure rate is far higher in remote and island health boards than in Central Belt ones. I know that only too well from the closure of GP practices in Burghead and Hopeman in Moray.

"This SNP Government doesn't understand or care about rural and island Scotland. We see that in the ferries scandal, the failure to upgrade vital trunk roads including the A9, A96 and A75, the woefully-inadequate R100 broadband rollout and the greater teacher shortages in rural schools.

"Far too many people in rural Scotland are waiting too long, and having to travel too far from home, to get a GP appointment due to the SNP’s failure to recruit and retain staff. The Scottish Conservatives have outlined plans to tackle this problem by introducing a ban on the closure of any NHS facility and recruiting 1,000 extra GPs."

GP closure rates per 100,000

  • NHS Ayrshire & Arran: 0.81

  • NHS Lothian: 1.86

  • NHS Tayside: 1.92

  • NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde: 2.36

  • NHS Borders: 2.59

  • NHS Fife: 3.47

  • NHS Dumfries & Galloway: 4.03

  • NHS Grampian: 4.09

  • NHS Forth Valley: 4.25

  • NHS Shetland: 4.36

  • NHS Highland: 4.93

  • NHS Lanarkshire: 4.97

  • NHS Western Isles: 7.51

  • NHS Orkney: 17.75

Source: Public Health Scotland GP Practice Contact Details and List Sizes, January 2024

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We incentivise GPs into taking up rural positions through our £10,000 'golden hello' scheme and are investing £1million into bursaries for GP trainees who agree to remain in remote and rural areas for their training.

"We fund 70 annual places on Scotland's first graduate entry medical course and our £3m National Centre for Remote and Rural Health and Care works with NHS Boards to improve rural workforce retention."