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All GP staff to be covered under new £900k burnout scheme

GPs suffering stress and burnout in Scotland will have full access to local occupational health services under a scheme which will include all general practice staff.

Health secretary Shona Robison announced £920,000 of funding to expand access for GPs and other practice employees, unlike in England where only GPs themselves are covered.

Under the changes, which come into force immediately, anyone working in general practice will have access to their local health board’s existing occupational health services free of charge.

The proposals aimed at improving the health of primary care staff were first put forward earlier in the year after the BMA warned GPs were increasingly becoming burnt out by the pressures being heaped on them.

Until now, GPs as independent contractors would have had to fund and make their own arrangements for occupational health services for themselves and their staff, a spokesperson said.

Ms Robison said they were working to get general practice ‘back to being the profession of choice for more young doctors’.

She said: ‘As well as increasing funding we have to look after GPs and their practice staff, and ensure that the basics are right. Occupational health is a key part of that.’

She added that practice staff being able to take full advantage of occupational health services would help create a more sustainable workforce in the long term.

The funding, which will continue to be provided on a recurrent basis, comes at a time when general practice is in crisis with a workforce under immense pressure.

Dr Alan McDevitt, chair of the Scottish GPC, said: ‘Measures that provide continued support to practices are very welcome and I am delighted that the Scottish Government has committed recurring funding to ensure that all our staff will have free access to the occupational health service.’

Access to occupational health services for GPs has been a contentious issue across the UK in recent years.

In 2014, a Pulse campaign secured a turnaround from NHS England who had placed restrictions on access to occupational health despite dangerous levels of stress and mental exhaustion in the profession.

NHS England announced a raft of measures in September 2015 which included a new nationally-specified service for GPs suffering from burnout and stress, a proposal repeated in the General Practice Forward View earlier this year.

In April, the Welsh government announced a £200,000 investment to expand occupational health services to GPs.

The GPC in England and Wales said both schemes were a step in the right direction but needed to be extended to all primary care staff.

Dr Peter Swinyard, chair of the Family Doctor Association and a GP in Swindon, said occupational health services were vital for all members of staff.

He said: ‘You need to look after your workforce and the workforce is not just GPs.

‘Unless we look after ourselves we are not going to be any good at looking after anyone else.’

‘We need to follow Scotland’s example on this.’