National Health Service General Practitioner Contract

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 7 June 2007.

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Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party 12:00, 7 June 2007

To ask the First Minister whether the Executive has plans to review the NHS general practitioner contract. (S3F-33)

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Parliamentary Leader (Westminster), First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

The general medical services contract is, at present, a United Kingdom contract negotiated on a UK basis on behalf of the four health departments. The contract is kept under review annually. The Scottish Government's key objectives for the contract in the future are to deliver more flexible access for patients and to ensure a fair distribution of resources according to need.

Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party

I must first declare an interest, in that my wife is a general practitioner—although I will find out whether she agrees that the question is in her interest only when I return home.

Although general practitioner terms and conditions of service have traditionally been negotiated on a UK basis, I believe that there is a possibility that it can be done on a devolved basis, and I ask that the Government not always take the lead from Westminster. Scottish GPs feel demoralised by having to run their practices more and more according to centrally set targets that ignore important conditions such as chronic skin disease, and their patients are becoming increasingly frustrated because GPs' surgeries now close at 6 pm and it is more difficult to see a GP.

Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party

Will the First Minister consider entering into negotiations with Scottish representatives to produce a better deal for Scotland?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Parliamentary Leader (Westminster), First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

I say to Labour members that if somebody comes to the Parliament with expert knowledge that many of us do not have, we might do well to listen occasionally to what they have to say.

The Administration is keen to work in partnership with doctors and national health service boards to ensure greater flexibility in the provision of GP services to the public across Scotland. As we indicated in the SNP manifesto, we will work with doctors and other health providers to deliver more flexible access to health services. I am sure that we can achieve that by working co-operatively with doctors organisations. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing is committed to that partnership.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

I wish Mr McKee good luck when he gets home tonight.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

In response to the first part of Mr McKee's question, the First Minister appeared to rule out any changes to the contract. Will he confirm that that is a further instalment of his rejection of the Howat report, which was much lauded in the chamber by Mr Swinney, who said that he would give it consideration? It seems to me that the £28 million savings set out in the report that could have been achieved have already been ruled out. Will the First Minister confirm that he has rejected that suggestion?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Parliamentary Leader (Westminster), First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

What I said was that things are being kept under review. I have to say that for a minister in the previous Government to start citing a report that it kept under wraps so that the Parliament could not see it is the most extraordinary development. However, I welcome Ross Finnie's conversion to freedom of information.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

Does the First Minister agree that GP funding has never been higher? Indeed the income for GPs has increased by some 40 per cent over the past three years. Does he acknowledge, as he will see from the details, that there are specific Scottish initiatives that the Scottish ministers can fund? How does his position fit with the position made clear by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing yesterday in relation to the maintenance of central services in hospitals? How will the funding be moved to GP and local care, given the budget in our national health service?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Parliamentary Leader (Westminster), First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

Be that as it may, people are looking for more flexibility and more access to their general practitioners.

I welcome the fact that Andy Kerr is looking a bit more cheerful today; he had a pretty greeting face yesterday.

Members:

Answer the question!

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

Allied to general practitioners' contract, wages and conditions is the out-of-hours service. Although I agree that the review should be of general practitioners first and foremost, does the First Minister agree that it would not be a comprehensive review of primary care services unless it included an up-to-date review of the cost- effectiveness of and patient satisfaction with the helpline?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Parliamentary Leader (Westminster), First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

That is a constructive point. I accept the points that Margo MacDonald makes. Both matters, and others in terms of primary care, have to be considered and reviewed together.