Primary Care Services

– in the Scottish Parliament on 12th January 2023.

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Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

1. To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to protect primary care services in light of reports showing the workforce and demand pressures on general practice. (S6O-01764)

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I am immensely grateful to general practitioners and GP practice staff up and down the country, who are doing an incredible job during a period of significant challenge. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that being a GP remains an attractive career choice with a manageable workload.

Despite the pandemic, we have recruited 3,220 whole-time-equivalent healthcare professionals to provide support to GPs, underpinned by an investment commitment of more than £500 million since 2018. We have a record number of GPs working in Scotland, and we are committed to having 800 additional GPs by the end of 2027.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

I thank the cabinet secretary for his response, but he should know that statistics for 2022 show that the WTE number of GPs has fallen to 3,493. That is

81 fewer than in 2017, when the Scottish National Party announced its intention to boost GP numbers.

Dr Andrew Buist of the British Medical Association has said:

“the SNP government’s failure to boost GP numbers and provide sufficient funding has locked primary care into a ‘vicious circle’ of rising workloads forcing GPs out of the profession.”

Does the cabinet secretary agree?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I am sure that Jackie Baillie knows—it was probably just an oversight—that our target for the period between 2017 and 2027 was based on headcount. Of course, the overall GP headcount has increased by 291 from 4,918 to 5,209, so there has been an increase in the GP headcount and we are making good progress towards the 800 figure.

On the whole-time equivalent issue that Jackie Baillie raises, we are engaging with Dr Andrew Buist, who I meet very regularly, and the Royal College of General Practitioners on what more we can do in relation to retention. However, it should be recognised that having more flexible working patterns is a good thing; it helps with work-life balance, which we hope will help with GP retention.

I commend the RCGP report that was released just before Christmas, which focuses on a number of initiatives that the Government might want to explore in relation to the retention of GPs. We will continue to engage with the BMA and the RCGP on those important issues.

Photo of Sandesh Gulhane Sandesh Gulhane Conservative

Announcing total funding hides the fact that the Scottish Government may make cuts this year to GPs and primary care. The pressure on GPs will only increase, given that we have 23 fewer GPs than last year. Yesterday, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde announced that it is pausing non-urgent elective surgery and going on to an emergency footing—despite the money—which will increase the pressure on primary care.

On BBC Radio Scotland today, we heard from many people who are suffering from long Covid and who say that the service is failing them. A nurse who we cheered and clapped for during the pandemic says that she will lose her job and her home because of long Covid. If patients are saying that they cannot get help from hospitals, they will go to their GP and increase the pressure. What more is the cabinet secretary willing to do to help long Covid patients?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

Dr Sandesh Gulhane is right: we had to make some really difficult choices around our budget this year, including the reprofiling of funding for primary care. We did that because his party completely mismanaged the economy of the United Kingdom, and high inflation costs meant that our budget in the health and social care portfolio was worth £650 million less than when we set it in December last year. Difficult decisions had to be made because we do not have the full fiscal levers in our hands.

We will continue to invest in multidisciplinary teams, which will help to spread the workload from GPs to other members of staff. We will also continue to invest in NHS 24, for example, from which people get really excellent advice.

I announced the additional recruitment of 200 staff for long Covid, and Sandesh Gulhane knows that we have committed £10 million over three financial years. We will continue to invest that funding to help long Covid sufferers as well as anybody else who is suffering from any condition at a time of great pressure on our national health service.

Photo of Beatrice Wishart Beatrice Wishart Liberal Democrat

This week, a Shetland GP surgery posted on social media that

“Due to high demand and staff availability, we are currently dealing with clinically urgent requests only. If your request is of a non-urgent nature, please consider contacting us next week.”

What can the Scottish Government say to people who are seeking medical help and the staff who are under pressure in our island NHS services?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

The period over the past few weeks has been and continues to be one of the most difficult periods that the NHS has faced in its existence. We know that that is a result of the cumulative impact of the pandemic, the rise in Covid cases—Beatrice Wishart will know that, on Friday, when the Office for National Statistics released the most recent data, the figure was one in 25—and the fact that flu cases are higher than they have been in many years, together with the rise in cases of Strep A and other viral infections. All of that was combined with the festive period and a snap of cold weather. The combination of those factors has made it a really difficult period for the NHS and social care up and down the country.

What are we doing? On Tuesday, I gave Parliament some detail on what we are doing to provide support, which includes helping with the issues around discharge and investing further in the NHS 24 service that is available up and down the country.

Difficult decisions will have to be made at a local level, whether in the NHS Shetland area or elsewhere, but I hope that those difficult decisions will be time limited. As the additional support that we have provided kicks in and as the flu and Covid cases begin to abate, as, in time, I hope they will, that will help the health service through what has been a really difficult time. I again express my gratitude to every member of the NHS and social care workforce, who are working so hard during these difficult times.