£90k salaries ‘not enough’ to attract Highlands GPs

Measures to attract new GPs to rural parts of the Highlands and islands is failing, it has been claimed, with 21 posts being left unfilled, including two that has been left vacant for three years.

Highlands practices are struggling to recruit GPs like Doctor Finlay, from Doctor Finlay's Casebook. Picture: BBC
Highlands practices are struggling to recruit GPs like Doctor Finlay, from Doctor Finlay's Casebook. Picture: BBC

Dr Michael Foxley, a retired Highland doctor and former councillor – and now a member on NHS Highland – has called for salaries to be increased from around £90,000 in a bid to attract new blood to the region.

Vacancies across the Highlands are continuing to cause a major problem for the health authority, which has admitted recent moves to entice new doctors have not succeeded to fill the gaps.

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There are currently 21 posts being advertised. Fifteen of these have been vacant for more than three months and five for more than a year. Two, one in Thurso and the other in Acharacle, have been vacant for almost three years. Despite an average GP salary of almost £90,000, concern is mounting about how next to tackle the problem. In January, the health board had hoped to find new doctors through a recruitment drive in the Netherlands.

And last summer, marketing consultants from the Channel Islands were hired. They emphasised the positive aspects of life in the rural Highlands.

But despite some success in recruiting new doctors to rural locations,

NHS Highland has admitted it is still struggling to find new doctors.

Dr Foxley, who worked out of Fort William in Lochaber, said: “The world has changed since I started 35 years ago.

“There are several factors for not being able to fill posts, including the fact doctors prefer working in urban areas where they will certainly earn more money.

“When I was a young GP we were proud to work in a local community where we would get patients turning up at your door in the middle of the night.

“The current generation don’t like that. They want to be out of their office by 5pm every night and not to be bothered at night or weekends. Perhaps we should look at increasing their salaries.”
Dr Foxley believes the Highlands and islands should be a “great learning curve” for young doctors, particularly given the “safe and stunning environment”.

A spokesman for NHS Highland said: “Our ‘Being Here’ recruitment campaign has yielded far more interest than traditional methods of advertising for GP posts.

“We have evidence to show that as fast as we are recruiting, we are losing GPs by retirals.

“This is why we must do something different. We are looking at models that don’t rely too heavily on GPs, by using other healthcare workers; nurses of all grades, ambulance technicians and paramedics, pharmacy technicians and prescribing pharmacists among others to work all together on providing care, and by using opportunities to be creative about redesigning the structure of GP practices to make them more sustainable when opportunities arise.

“We are putting pressure on the Scottish Government to solve many of the rural issues, such as lack of connectivity, transport and housing infrastructure, and this will take some time.”