A government-funded scheme to attract GPs to work in remote areas Scotland for short fixed periods in a bid to tackle recruitment problems has ‘worked better than anticipated’.
So far the pilot programme, which covers Shetland, Orkney, the Western Isles and the Highlands, has signed up 14 GPs from more than 50 applications, NHS Shetland said.
Another 13 are expected to attend a second selection weekend.
A wide-range of GPs have been attracted to the scheme – including recent retirees and younger GPs wanting to use their experience in acute medicine in a remote and rural setting.
Applicants – who can be at any point in their career – can sign up for between four to 18 weeks a year.
NHS Shetland chief executive Ralph Roberts said the strategy was about encouraging GPs to ‘rediscover the joy of true general practice’ up in the north of Scotland.
He said one of the aspects that had been most successful was having members of staff dedicated to the project which meant they could take a ‘personal approach of continually speaking to and really understanding what is driving an individual to look at working in a remote and rural location’.
If it proves successful, the pilot could extend to other areas of Scotland struggling with recruitment problems.
GPs who take up the opportunity could be providing leave cover to a practice for a planned absence or work as a locum across a group of practices.
It is hoped that some of the GPs taking part in the scheme may also take up more permanent posts in the future.
Shetlands GP Dr Dylan Murphy, who helped with the set up and selection process, said: ‘So far we have had far more interest that we had anticipated.
‘The quality of applicants was high, with two distinct cohorts – older GPs looking to do something different towards end of career and young GPs with experience in acute medicine or anaesthetics, which can be useful in the remote and rural setting.’
He said the ‘niche role’ would not suit all GPs but that it was ‘looking like a very promising way of providing care in remote and rural areas, to which recruitment has traditionally been challenging’.
Dr Murphy said applicants had come from all sorts of backgrounds.
‘Some are looking for this alongside other more traditional locum posts, others may be working alongside pre-existing roles, others dropping from full time hours and doing this instead of retiring,’ he explained.
BMA’s GP Committee representative for Shetland, Orkney, Western Isles, Highland and Grampian Dr Iain Kennedy said he wished to congratulate those who designed and marketed the posts.
He said: ‘Rural general practice was largely forgotten about in the new Scottish GP contract and anything that helps to address the negative consequences of the Scottish GP contract on GP recruitment into rural areas is welcome.
‘I do, however, think that these rural GP posts should have been remunerated at a higher level given the wider exposure to clinical risks and broader responsibilities.
‘It will therefore be important to monitor how long these posts remain filled.’