Questions have been raised over allocation of £20,000 ‘golden hellos’ to attract trainee GPs in Scotland after it emerged only five posts out of 37 had been made available to the worst hit North of the country.
In response to a parliamentary question from Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, the health secretary said the one-off bursary had only been attached to two positions in the NHS Highland area and three in NHS Grampian.
The Scottish Government announced 100 additional training posts in August, 37 of which would come with the £20,000 bonus, in an attempt to boost numbers for ‘hard to fill’ posts in rural, remote and deprived areas.
Mr Stewart said he had recently visited two surgeries in his constituency that had been taken over by the health board because of a shortage of GPs.
‘While this development of the trainee scheme is a step in the right direction, I am very disappointed with the number of bursary posts available in our area, given the difficulty in finding GPs for many of our remote, rural areas, including Caithness, Lochaber, Sutherland, Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles,’ he said.
‘I realise it is a complex issue to solve but attracting more trainees would be part of the battle.’
However, Scottish GP leaders stressed that the bursary scheme – while welcome – was only one part of the solution to attracting new GPs.
Dr Alan McDevitt, chair of Scottish GPC, said training places going unfilled was a big challenge particularly in remote and more deprived practices.
‘While the bursary is a step towards filling at least some of these trainee places in areas that have been particularly difficult to recruit into, we must not lose sight of the fact that there also needs to be broader action to ensure that we are training enough GPs to meet the needs of Scotland’s population and the growing demands that general practice is facing.’
Health secretary Shona Robison said they had substantially increased the number of new training places for GPs across Scotland this year.
‘The 100 additional GP training posts is one of a number of initiatives to encourage trainee doctors into general practice, and to make GP a more attractive option. We are also funding initiatives to encourage established GPs to return to practice.’
The 37 training places that attracted the additional bursary were chosen because they had failed to attract candidates for three years in a row, a spokesperson for the Scottish Government said.
Dr Chris Williams, member of Highland LMC and GP project lead for a scheme at the University of Dundee to place students in general practice for a whole year said there had been longstanding fears in the Highlands about how a small drop in GP numbers could leave a large geographical area without suitable cover.
But he said there was a fair amount of work going on to help recruit more clinicians.
‘There are lots of reasons for GPs to work in the Highlands, from a professional point of view and for the lifestyle it offers.’
He added the bursary was a useful thing to try but more needed to be done earlier on in GP training and even pre-intake to attract a diverse range of candidates.
‘How medical schools expose people to primary care needs to change dramatically and it is starting to change,’ he said.