General Practitioners (Training and Recruitment)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 13 March 2024.

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Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

8. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide further details of the progress that it is making towards fulfilling its 2017 commitment to increase the number of GPs by 800 within a decade. (S6O-03197)

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

I remain fully committed to increasing the number of GPs in Scotland by 800 by 2027. I welcome the fact that the GP headcount has increased by 271 since 2017 and is now consistently over 5,000. Training new GPs is key to our approach. That takes time, but we have expanded GP specialty training, adding 35 places this academic year and a further 35 places next year. There are currently just over 1,200 trainee GPs in Scotland. We are also investing over £1 million each year in recruitment and retention initiatives, and I will set out my plans to further increase GP numbers in due course.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

When I met a constituent who works part time as a GP, I was concerned to hear his view that, because GPs are not given financial support to have trainee doctors working with them, GPs are potentially missing out. The situation means that trainee doctors do not see the fantastic contribution that GPs make to our health service. My constituent wanted me to highlight directly to the Scottish Government that lack of funding, which does not apply to hospitals. Will the cabinet secretary review the issue and consider whether providing funding could make a big impact?

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

Sarah Boyack will be well aware of the financial pressures under which we are operating, but, in principle, yes, I am more than happy to look at that and to hear more from Sarah Boyack’s constituent about how we can increase the resource that is going into primary care. Part of the reform consideration is about prevention and ensuring that people use primary care much more effectively. I would be happy to meet Sarah Boyack and her constituent to hear about that directly.

Photo of Sandesh Gulhane Sandesh Gulhane Conservative

GP shortages are particularly acute in Scotland’s Highland, island and rural areas, and doctors are quitting. Some rural practices are now wholly staffed by temporary locum doctors. That is worsening health inequalities and depopulation in those areas. The shortfall of GPs has been described as critical by the British Medical Association, and it has called for special measures to be put in place to reverse the crisis. Golden hellos clearly are not enough to address the issues, and current schemes are also not delivering enough GPs.

We need urgent action to properly tackle the root problems of the failure to recruit and retain GPs. What urgent action is the Scottish Government taking to address the crisis in rural and island communities now?

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

I have already set out in response to Sarah Boyack’s question the work that we are doing to invest in recruitment and retention—that is worth £1 million a year—and to provide increased numbers of GPs in training. We currently have 1,200 GPs in training. I look forward to meeting the BMA and hearing more about its suggestions for how we can continue to facilitate recruitment and retention, but we will do so in a financially constrained environment in which decisions that have been taken for us have had an impact. For example, Brexit has had an impact on our workforce, and the fact that the resources coming from the UK Government are diminishing is having a clear impact on our ability to invest in the reform that we need.

Photo of Emma Harper Emma Harper Scottish National Party

We know that training new GPs will play an important part in increasing the number of GPs in Scotland. Can the cabinet secretary provide an update on what further steps the Government is taking to support people to train, such as the unique ScotGEM—Scottish graduate entry medicine—programme, which has a focus on recruitment in rural areas?

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

That is a good point from Emma Harper—she is absolutely right. Recruitment into general practice specialty training programmes in Scotland has improved drastically in recent years. For example, of all the GPST posts that were advertised in 2022, 99 per cent were filled successfully, which was up from 64 per cent in 2016. A 100 per cent fill rate has been achieved for the first time in Scotland this year, based on data that was published in July 2023. End-year results will be published shortly, and we will confirm the final position for 2023.

We are funding on-going expansion in GPST, with 35 additional posts having been created last year and another 35 being added this year. In addition to increasing training numbers, we recently committed to investing £1 million in targeted enhanced recruitment scheme bursaries for GP trainees who agree to undertake training in traditionally hard-to-fill areas, including in remote and rural parts of Scotland.

Photo of Sandesh Gulhane Sandesh Gulhane Conservative

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I apologise that

I did not declare my interest as a practising national health service GP.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you, Dr Gulhane. That is duly noted. Obviously, the expectation is that any declaration of interest prefaces a member’s contribution in the chamber, but thank you.

That concludes portfolio questions on NHS recovery, health and social care. There will be a short pause before we move on to the next item of business.