Holyrood votes for GP recruitment & funding review

‘Urgent review’ to focus on rural GPs and out-of-hours provision

Thursday 25th April 2019

Holyrood opposition parties last night united to defeat the Scottish Government and call for more investment in general practice.

MSPs backed calls for an ‘urgent review’ of GP recruitment, retention and funding after a debate that saw opposition parties claim the government had badly mishandled recruitment while the Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, insisted new initiatives were showing ‘early signs of success’.

Estimates from the Royal College of GPs indicate there could be a shortfall of more than 850 GPs by 2021.

Parliamentarians also voted for the review to include a focus on out-of-hours provision and the effect of the new contract on GPs working in remote and rural areas, after the chair of a rural GPs’ group resigned from a Scottish Government taskforce set up to assuage countryside doctors’ concerns last month.

The Green party’s health spokesperson Alison Johnstone, who led the debate, warned of a ‘serious funding deficit’ for general practice and asked:

“Why, then, is proportional investment in general practice consistently below what is needed? The Royal College says that such an investment would result in an increased GP workforce, modernised, fit-for-purpose surgeries, widened access to training and improved information technology systems. Those are the resources that are needed to support integration and for GPs to continue to deliver the very best standards of care for patients in Scotland.”

MSPs zeroed in on issues like out-of-hours provision, particularly in rural areas. Green MSP Mark Ruskell said the solution lay in recruiting multidisciplinary teams with allied health professionals and prescribing pharmacists to ease the pressures on GPs.

For her part, Ms Freeman, insisted the issues behind recruitment and retention in general, and out-of-hours services in general, stemmed from the 2004 GP contract renegotiation, when the then Labour-Liberal coalition removed the obligation for GPs to work out-of-hours shifts.

The former Labour adviser turned SNP cabinet secretary said the Scottish Government was working with GPs to address any concerns over the new contract, through a working group headed by leading doctor Sir Lewis Ritchie, and had earmarked an extra £500m for primary care.