Patients at risk as GPs are ‘starved of funding’

Spending on GP services from Scotland's NHS budget has dropped by more than 160 million. Picture: PA
Spending on GP services from Scotland's NHS budget has dropped by more than 160 million. Picture: PA
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PATIENT care in Scotland is being put at risk due to a slump in the share of the NHS budget spent on general practice, doctors’ leaders have warned.

Spending on GP services from Scotland’s NHS budget has dropped by more than £160 million since the mid 2000s, figures show.

Yesterday, GPs claimed the sharp decline in funding is damaging the standard of patient care, leading to longer waiting times and increasing pressure on hospitals. The stark warning was issued in a report from the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and the National Association for Patient Participation (NAPP).

The decline in funding comes despite health board figures showing that general practice carries out 90 per cent of all contacts across the NHS.

Dr John Gillies, chair of RCGP Scotland, warned that the spending squeeze would place added pressure on GP practices struggling to cope with high levels of social deprivation and an ageing population.

He said: “GPs would like to keep more elderly patients out of hospital; we desperately need the resources to make this happen.

“Scotland also has some of the most deprived communities in the UK, and one of the problems with this is that people die younger and have all sorts of other problems. We need more resources for all this.”

In Scotland, 9.47 per cent of the NHS budget was spent on GP services in 2004-05. By 2011-12, this had fallen to 7.78 per cent, the RCGP and NAAP said.

The RCGP, when asked, said it would now take £162.5m to restore spending on GP services to 2005 levels. It is demanding £300m – 11 per of Scotland’s NHS budget over the next four years – for general practices.

General practice across the UK received 10.3 per cent of the NHS budget in 2004-05, but this fell to 8.4 per cent by 2011-12.

Dr Jean Turner, executive director of the Scotland Patients Association, warned that starving GP services of funds would lead to vulnerable people having to spend longer in hospital.

She said: “GPs are taking more and more cases because of an ageing population, but if we don’t put money into community health services a lot of patients won’t be able to stay at home.

“It’s heart-breaking that older people can’t go home because there isn’t enough support for them through community health services and have instead to stay in hospital.

“Doctors are stretched as it is, and general practice is taken for granted rather than being treated as the jewel in the crown of the NHS. It shows politicians don’t understand what doctors do.”

However, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “This government has increased the number of GPs by 5.7 per cent and has invested more than £757m to deliver primary care services last year, an increase of more than 17 per cent since 2004, with a further increase by £8m to general practice this year.”

Dr Gillies said the RCGP and NAPP were launching a campaign – Put Patients First, Back General Practice – calling on government to increase NHS spending on general practice across the UK to 11 per cent by 2017.