Highland GP search restarts after recruitment flop

DESPITE the lure of some of Britain’s best scenery and the financial incentive of a “golden hello”, health bosses have been forced to search again for six doctors with a love for the Highlands.

The prospective GPs will be based in Mallaig. Picture: TSPL

The medics are wanted to form a revolutionary model for healthcare in rural Scotland but the first attempt proved an embarrassing flop.

NHS Highland refused to say how many applications there were for the £75,000-a-year jobs the first time round but, when the deadline passed in May, it was believed to be as few as two.

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Now a new advert seeking six full-time doctors and a part-timer for the planned West Lochaber Medical Practice has been placed with the British Medical Journal. Together with another medic, they will form a team of eight GPs.

“Golden hellos” may be offered to attract doctors – who will also serve the Small Isles of Canna, Eigg, Muck and Rum.

“There is still an exciting opportunity to join the newly formed West Lochaber Medical Practice,” says the advert. “You can become part of our team of eight remote and rural general practitioners, living and working in the rugged Scottish West Highlands, an area of outstanding natural beauty.”

It adds that the “unique opportunity” is ideal for GPs “who enjoy the challenges of remote and rural living and have a keen interest in outdoor pursuits”.

The new super rural practice has been created following the death last year of Dr Rachel Weldon, who had looked after fewer than 200 patients on the Small Isles for 12 years.

Her death sparked a major change in how health services are run on the islands and nearby mainland. Now, three practices will link up to provide eight GPs, who will work in teams out of Mallaig and Acharacle on the mainland.

NHS Highland has said that the move will ensure the continuation of out-of-hours services and routine care. The new West Lochaber practice will provide services to 3,200 patients across 1,242 square miles.

As well as the islands, it includes Knoydart, which has mainland Britain’s remotest pub, The Old Forge. The peninsula can be reached only by boat or by walking 18 miles over 3,500ft hills from the nearest road.

References in the original advert that the jobs are “not for the faint-hearted” have been removed.

Mallaig GP Iain Gartshore will lead the development of the multi-practice approach.

Dr Gartshore said: “NHS Highland has recognised that a new model of working is required to support not just rural communities but also the NHS teams which provide GP and nursing services.”

The new model forms part of wider work being led by NHS Highland and the Scottish Government to come up with new ways of delivering primary health care in remote and rural areas.