Tom Peterkin: GPs’ woes give Scottish Government a headache

There are worries that cash for GP surgeries is being sidelined at the expense of health board. Picture: Contributed
There are worries that cash for GP surgeries is being sidelined at the expense of health board. Picture: Contributed
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Dr Miles Mack used unusually powerful language to describe the plight of family doctors in Scotland when he articulated their fears for the future of their profession.

The chairman of the Royal College of GPs (Scotland) claimed the Scottish Government believed that general practitioners were “dispensable” was pursuing a strategy to “erode” the role of the doctor in family life.

The fears expressed by Dr Mack when he released his statement earlier this week were designed to set alarm bells ringing in the Scottish Government.

At the heart of the doctors’ concern is the uncertainty about the model that the Scottish Government intends to pursue when it comes to delivering care.

Following John Swinney’s December Budget, there are worries that cash for GP surgeries is being sidelined at the expense of health boards, plus concerns that other health professionals may be charged with taking over tasks traditionally carried out by GPs.

The RCGP Scotland believes the Scottish Government is in the process of developing health reforms that will have a far-reaching effect on the work carried out by doctors.

At the root of the uncertainty is the suspicion that whatever model the Scottish Government chooses will result in GPs being undermined.

Just one day after Dr Mack’s troubling diagnosis of the woes facing family doctors, the BMA warned that the current model for patient care is not longer sustainable and new ways of working that redefine the GP’s job need to be found.

The two organisations may appear to have at differing take on the GP crisis. But what is clear is that morale in that sector of medicine is in far from rude health.

A “manifesto” produced by the RCGP Scotland for the May election put the challenges facing the profession in stark terms: “Rising workload, a shortage of GPs and declining resources are putting intolerable pressure on local practices and posing a threat to patient care.

“Now, with vacancies in many practices, imminent large-scale retirement, qualified GPs leaving to practice abroad, recruitment to general practice a major concern, and with universities not delivering sufficient numbers of doctors to GP specialty training, the profession is close to tipping point.”

Given the point we have reached in the electoral and NHS funding cycles it is no coincidence that medical organisations are becoming increasingly vocal. One can see the merit of the RCGP Scotland and BMA wanting to capture the capture the attention of politicians before the Scottish elections.

It will not be too long after the poll that the finishing touches will have to be put on the new GPs’ contract to be implemented in 2017.

Even though the result of May’s election is a foregone conclusion, it is nevertheless still a good time to influence public and political opinion.

The lateness of Mr Swinney’s Budget (as a result of delay in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement) means there is little or no time for Holyrood’s health committee to debate the implications of it on the NHS before May.

The RCGP Scotland is hopeful that Dr Mack’s remarks will stimulate debate among the ­political parties about the funding and role of GP services, as well as publicise their own ­concerns about what the future holds. It is a debate that the Scottish Government ignores at its peril.