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Scottish health minister says GPs need more resources, fewer targets and lighter workload

Scottish GPs have been told by their country’s health minister that he recognises the need for increased investment into primary care to allow GPs to do their job properly, while also promising to remove unnecessary targets and listen to GPs about workload issues.

Speaking at the Scottish LMCs conference in Glasgow on Friday, Scottish cabinet secretary for health and wellbeing Alex Neil received loud applause for acknowledging the need for investment and promising to continue to negotiate the GP contract in Scotland, as opposed to imposing terms.

He said: ‘There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that we do need to put more resources into the primary care sector to allow you and your colleagues to deliver on the aspirations on the 2020 vision of treating people much more at home and avoiding hospitalisation.’

He added: ‘I want to further look at the targets to see where the targets are working and where they are not working. I don’t want targets that distort clinical decisions. We are not in this just to achieve targets for the sake of ticking a box, we are in this to deliver the best health service we possibly can. So there are two things I want to do with targets. I want to reduce them where they are unnecessary or distorting clinical decisions and secondly I want to make them much more outcomes-based.’

‘The way you run your GP practice, at the end of the day, is your decision. My civil servants cannot and should not micromanage your practice. My job is to say to you is these are the outcomes that for the taxpayers’ money that you receive, we would like you to deliver. How you deliver those outcomes is your business.’

Referring to the pending contract imposition in England, he added: ‘If we are going to achieve all our aspirations for the National Health Service it is very important, even with these constraints on our finances, that we do everything we possibly can, to ensure that the morale amongst the people that are expected to deliver these services is as high as possible. You do not get high morale if you impose so-called settlements on people. My view is that you negotiate a settlement.’

He further invited GPs to propose ideas for how the Government can help lighten GP workload further, but asked them ‘not to bring problems but solutions’. He also said ministers would be willing to look at making changes to the already negotiated contract settlement for 2013/14.

Dr Alan McDevitt, chair of GPC Scotland, said the speech was ‘very positive’.

‘He said all the right things, he demonstrated that he was listening to what we were saying and that is a fundamental start,’ he said. ‘Obviously we have to move that on to something that makes a difference to practices, GPs and patients.’

Dr Georgina Brown, a GP in Glasgow, said: ‘We should be holding him to [the acknowledgement that primary care needs investment] but I don’t think he exactly committed to it, he suggested it. I think if he is going to give us more resource he has to understand how that resource should best be used, and it is not just about ancillary resource and service administration or working smarter. You do get to a stage when you just don’t have enough feet on the ground and you just need more GPs.’