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MSPs warn Holyrood of general practice being ‘tomorrow’s disaster’ across Scotland

Edinburgh GP practice

MSPs from across Scotland have warned of the perilous state of general practice during a debate on GP recruitment and retention.

Politicians of all parties detailed the problems faced in areas such as West Kilbride, Lothian, South Scotland and the Shetlands warned of ‘chronic underfunding’, a ‘meltdown’ of services, and patients having to queue to register.

The Scottish Government and BMA negotiators are finalising details of a new contract to be rolled out in April, which will see GPs heading up multi-disciplinary teams and working on more complex cases themselves.

But many areas in Scotland are having to close lists and practices in the meantime, with MSPs detailing the problems in their areas. For example:

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  • Jamie Greene, Conservative MSP for West Scotland said ‘chronic underfunding of general practice and a training and recruitment pipeline which has not met demand’ led to a situation where a third of GPs were set to retire in the next five years. He said today’s crisis in general practice would be ‘tomorrow’s disaster’;
  • Miles Briggs, Conservative MSP for Lothian said the population of Edinburgh has grown by 5,000 patients a year, which practices have been forced to absorb. He said: ‘It’s clear that significant investment is needed in new and expanding GP practices across Edinburgh and across Scotland if we’re to avoid a meltdown in GP services.’
  • Alison Johnstone, a Green MSP representing Lothian, said she had ‘heard from constituents who have had to queue up on certain days at certain times just for a chance to register with a GP and this is of course the very last thing out GPs want.’
  • Colin Smyth, Labour MSP for South Scotland said in his patch of Dumfries and Galloway, the number of GPs had fallen from 134 in 2012 to 118 in 2016 and 42% of practices have a vacancy. It is, he added, a ‘ticking time bomb’ that we should have seen coming.
  • Tavish Scott, MSP for the Shetland Islands said: ‘Far from local scaremongering, this is a crisis throughout Scotland and aside from party politics.’

In response to the concerns raised, Maureen Watt, Minister for Mental Health, said the general practices were at the heart of the community and the heart of the NHS.

‘That’s why March the Cabinet Secretary announced that funding in direct support of general practice will increase by £250 million by the end of this parliament as part of our commitment to increase primary and community care funding by £500 million.’

She added that this ‘game-changing’ investment would help to build multidisciplinary teams that would give patients access to the ‘right professional at the right time’ and support GPs to do their job.