A health board has denied reducing funding when GP practices are re-tendered in order to plug financial gaps.
Dr Iain Kennedy, Highland LMC vice chair and executive partner at Riverside Practice in Inverness, said he had come across two examples of attempts to disinvest in practices where contracts had been put out to tender.
In one, the Foyer’s Practice covering Loch Ness East and Strathnairn, Dr Kennedy said he only found out about a £10,000 annual sustainability payment that had been removed after they took over the contract in 2015.
The money had previously been available for the small practice to use for locum cover for annual leave.
In the second – where the tender process is ongoing after the partners decided to hand their contract back – the Cromarty Medical Practice was redesignated as a branch practice and stripped of an £40,500 annual sustainability allowance in a bid to make cost savings, Dr Kennedy said.
The allowance was subsequently reinstated when no one stepped forward to take the practice over.
The NHS Highland health board said in both cases it was intended that the money remain within primary care.
But Dr Kennedy said he had seen evidence that the funding was to be put towards the ‘savings plan’.
‘The easy answer is to ringfence money for funding general practice,’ said Dr Kennedy, who put forward a similar proposal at the Scottish LMCs conference in March.
‘There is a lot of rhetoric around investing in general practice but the reality is health boards are taking opportunities to make efficiency savings,’ he added.
A statement from NHS Highland said ‘there has been no disinvestment to primary care and the budgets remain allocated to primary care’.
With regards the Cromarty Practice ‘the amount of £40.5K which was a practice sustainability payment could potentially be removed from that practice’s budget should the care be delivered under a different model e.g. as a branch surgery’, it said.
‘Again this funding would remain with primary care and would not be removed from general practices as a whole.’
Dr Kennedy added: ‘We believe that in both instances the board officials desire to help the board’s savings plan has been the driving factor.
‘Perhaps this is why the GP body as a whole was not consulted during either disinvestment process?’
Scottish GPC chair Dr Alan McDevitt said: ‘We have been absolutely clear with the Scottish Government that to deliver on our shared vision for general practice, a substantial proportion of the additional funding for primary care that the Scottish Government has announced must be used in direct support of general practice.’