Minister unveils £1m bid to boost access to GPs

MSP Nanette Milne raised concerns about cover for GPs on public holidays. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
MSP Nanette Milne raised concerns about cover for GPs on public holidays. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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A £1 MILLION drive to improve patients’ access to GPs has been unveiled by health secretary Alex Neil.

The current 48-hour target “can be an issue” and some people were unable to get prompt appointments, he told MSPs at Holyrood yesterday.

A wider review of the health service will be undertaken and backed by £1m to test different models of primary care.

He also outlined his ambition for a new Scottish GPs’ contract to improve overall care.

“I am asking my officials to work with the British Medical Association [BMA] to undertake a review of access across all GP practices in Scotland to develop an action plan to address issues that arise from that review,” Mr Neil said.

“But this is just the first stage. My clear ambition is for a new Scottish GP contract so that GPs get the time to do what they really need and want to do, which is work with individuals to ensure that their medical care is right for them, for their family and carers and for their local environment.”

Dr Alan McDevitt, chairman of the BMA’s Scottish general practitioners committee, said additional resources were needed to meet the government’s ambitions.

“General practice is facing immediate pressures: a rising population and growing list sizes, increased complexity of care and an ageing population,” he said in a statement following Mr Neil’s announcement to parliament.

“However, at the same time, general practice is working at maximum capacity, workload is rising and funding is falling.

“These are difficult challenges and I am pleased that the Scottish Government is working with us to try to identify solutions that could improve access without compromising quality or safety of care.

“Without additional resources to increase the capacity of general practice, it will be almost impossible to achieve the Government’s vision for the NHS in Scotland.

“We welcome the Cabinet secretary’s commitment today to reduce bureaucracy for GPs in order to allow them to spend more time with their patients and I hope that we can take forward discussions to make this commitment a reality for GPs in Scotland.”

Labour MSP Neil Findlay broadly welcomed the Scottish Government’s intention and asked for a focus on appointment systems.

“In some practices, people have to go in and take a ticket as though they are buying some sausages from the butcher’s, and sit there all day holding their ticket until they’re called,” he said.

“I think we have to move on from that in this day and age.”

Conservative MSP Dr Nanette Milne, a former hospital anaesthetist, also raised concerns about people’s access to GPs.

Dr Milne said she was pleased the health secretary was taking the issue seriously by looking at what could be done to improve accessibility.

“I am very concerned, and this is a personal concern, that many practices now close down at lunchtime on Wednesdays so they can concentrate on staff training, and for several days at a time over public holidays such as Christmas and New Year,” she said.

GP training was previously carried out after hours and staff shared holiday duties on a rota basis, Dr Milne told MSPs.

“While I think NHS 24 by and large cover these periods well, the new system has certainly not improved patients’ accessibility to their GPs,” she said.