General Practices

– in the Scottish Parliament on 23rd February 2023.

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Photo of Tess White Tess White Conservative

5. To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to research by the Royal College of General Practitioners reportedly showing that a third of Scotland’s GP staff who were surveyed said their practice was at risk of closing in the next few months. (S6F-01828)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I well understand the difficulties that general practice is facing right now, particularly during what has been—and, in some respects, continues to be—a challenging winter period. I put on record my thanks to general practitioners and their teams across the country.

A record number of GPs are working in Scotland. We have also recruited more than 3,000 healthcare professionals since 2018 as part of wider primary care multidisciplinary teams.

I very much value the work of the Royal College of General Practitioners, which is a very important partner. The survey is important, albeit that I should point out that the survey sample size is relatively small, as there were just 181 Scottish respondents from the many thousands of general practice staff who work here. Nevertheless, we pay close attention to the findings of the survey. We must encourage more trainee doctors and healthcare professionals to work in general practice, and we will keep working with the RCGP and others to ensure that that is an attractive proposition.

Photo of Tess White Tess White Conservative

This week, GPs in the north-east have sounded the alarm that general practice will become an extinct profession. They point the finger at a

“blatant and shameful lack of support” from the Scottish Government—that is a direct quote. In the north-east, Friockheim medical centre, Invergowrie medical centre, Wallacetown health centre, Burghead and Hopeman GP surgeries and Fyvie Oldmeldrum Medical Group either have closed, will close or have handed back their contract.

Audit Scotland has warned again today that the key target to increase the GP workforce by 2027 is “not on track”. Can the First Minister explain why the action that her Government is taking to address GP recruitment and retention is failing miserably? It is putting patient safety at risk.

The First Minister:

General practice is an important part of primary care, and primary care is an increasingly important part of our entire national health service, so we will continue to support general practices as part of wider teams. As I said earlier, since 2018, we have recruited more than 3,000 healthcare professionals to work in wider multidisciplinary teams, and we will continue to do that.

We are on track to meet the GP recruitment target for 2027, although, as Audit Scotland rightly says, that will be challenging. We will continue to focus on that so that we meet the target, and we will continue to ensure that we are making general practice an attractive proposition for people who wish to pursue medical careers.

These are extremely important issues, and these are challenging times for all parts of our national health service. However, the hypocrisy of Conservative members in the chamber is breathtaking at times. I will end my answer with this statistic: in Scotland, where the Scottish National Party is in office, the number of GPs per 100,000 of population is 95, but, in England, where the Conservatives are in office, the number is not 95 but just 78. These are challenging times, but this Government can evidence how we show support for general practice and the NHS as a whole.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

I am afraid that the First Minister’s Government is not on track, and Audit Scotland has said that the Government will miss the target of increasing GP head count by 800. However, it is worse than that, because whole-time equivalent GP numbers have decreased by 200 since 2013, which poses a serious threat to the recovery of primary care. At the same time, the number of patients who are registered with GPs has risen by more than 300,000, yet the SNP has cut £75 million from primary care and GP budgets this year. Does the First Minister not agree that, by slashing funding and failing to increase the number of GPs, the SNP is compounding the crisis in primary care and, ultimately, failing GPs and their patients?

The First Minister:

I do not agree with that. I agree that these are extremely challenging times for GPs and everybody who works in our national health service. The target for GP recruitment is for 2027, and we will of course have to focus and work to meet that.

I say, with the greatest respect to Audit Scotland—I take everything that it says very seriously—that I am not sure that anybody can look to 2027 and predict what is going to happen. It rightly points out that meeting the target will be challenging, but it is important that we remain on track.

The GP head count has already increased by 277, and the head count among the wider multidisciplinary teams has increased by more than 3,000. Of course, that is increasingly important, because GPs rely on other health professionals to help them to do the excellent job that they do.

To come back to the final point that I made in response to the previous question, we have more GPs, proportionately, than other parts of the UK do. Earlier, I mentioned England; we also have more GPs per head of population than Labour-run Wales does and more than Northern Ireland does. Therefore, there is much work to do in Scotland, but we do it from a position of relative strength.