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GPs lose access to ‘oversubscribed’ sustainability loan scheme

GPs lose access to ‘oversubscribed’ sustainability loan scheme

The Scottish Government has suspended its ‘sustainability’ loan scheme for GPs due to oversubscription. 

Last month, the Government wrote to practices to say it is ‘temporarily unable’ to process new loans and cannot confirm when the scheme will reopen. 

Scottish health secretary Neil Gray blamed ‘significant’ reductions in UK Government funding for the suspension. 

BMA Scotland’s GP Committee has said the decision will ‘accelerate practice closures’, and urged the Government to restart the application process.

The interest-free sustainability loans were designed to ‘reduce the risk of premises ownership’ for GPs, according to the BMA.

Loans could be used to help practices ensure sustainability, such as by paying back an existing mortgage or recruiting a new partner.

The letter sent last month, seen by Scottish Labour, said: ‘The Scottish Government is temporarily unable to process any further tranche one GP sustainability loans. 

‘This is due to a greater than anticipated number of loans having completed this year, with the result that our budget for loans is currently oversubscribed.’

Loans that have been agreed in principle where there are ‘exceptional circumstances’ will be dealt with on a ‘case by case basis’, the letter said. 

The Government has so far issued £11m of loans to 45 practices, but there are a further £3.5m of loans to 16 practices currently under consideration for which funding needs to be found. 

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GPC Scotland’s deputy chair Dr Andrew Cowie said the Government’s decision to ‘temporarily pause’ the loan scheme will ‘greatly impact a number of practices’.

He said: ‘Sustainability loans were introduced to increase the stability of practices where the partners own their own premises and this decision will accelerate practice closures.

‘Over the last 10 years, Scotland has lost around 100 GP practices and unexpected closures can have a huge impact on the GPs, the people they employ and the community they serve.

‘We have heard from concerned GPs and practices and urge the Scottish Government to restart the loan application process before it’s too late.’

Health secretary Neil Gray said: ‘We are committed to processing GP Sustainability Loans already completed. 

‘However, given significant UK Government reductions to the funding stream for this scheme, we are currently considering how further loans can be funded in future years and plan to issue a further communication on this.’

In 2019, the Scottish Government increased investment in the sustainability loan scheme, from £30m to £50m.

But three years later, the Government announced a £5m cut to the loan fund, with GP leaders warning that this will negatively affect patient care.

The loans, which were first announced as part of the new GP contract in 2018, must be repaid when the premises are no longer used for providing primary care medical services under an NHS contract or when sold.

Loans of up to 20% of the existing value of the premises were on offer under the scheme.