Urgent need for primary care workforce plan

Warning drive to expand general practice could affect other areas of the NHS

Thursday 12th September 2019

A plan setting out the workforce of the future is urgently needed for the whole of primary care, Scotland’s public spending watchdog has warned.

The drive to expand the role of general practice could also take away staff from other areas of the health service if sufficient numbers are not trained to fill the gaps, MSPs have been told.  

Last month a report from Audit Scotland warned ministers are likely to miss their target to boost GP numbers by 800, adding a ‘data gap’ is making it harder to plan what primary care staff are needed when and where.

Auditor general for Scotland Caroline Gardner said there was also little detail on how many other staff would be required in primary care to meet the Scottish Government’s vision to have more care delivered in the community.

Giving evidence to MSPs on the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee, she said: “What we are not seeing is something that goes beyond the commitment to train additional numbers of people and sets out an analysis which says here is what the workforce of the future needs to look like to be able to do that.

“We are seeing some of that being done at a local level by some of the integration authorities - and the integration authority figures are much higher than the levels we have seen being recruited into the workforce in recent years.”

However Ms Gardner said the staff “aren’t just there to be appointed”.

She added: “There is a risk that as the primary care teams are increasing their numbers, they are recruiting staff from other bits of the health service – from pharmacists in community pharmacists or hospitals, for example – and we know it takes a while to train these people.

“The planning for that needs to be happening now and the government needs to understand what the cost implications are.

“It is likely there will be cost increase needed during that training period, even if there is savings to be had from the acute sector once the primary care system is fulfilling that bigger role which is expected of it.”