This site is intended for health professionals only

Scotland to review public holiday cover for health and social care

The Scottish Government has announced a review of how health and social care, including general practice, can be co-ordinated more effectively over public holidays. 

Health secretary Shona Robison has convened a review group to look at what can be done to prevent people ending up unnecessarily in hospital over holiday periods such as Easter and Christmas and ensuring they can be discharged more quickly if they are admitted.

But GPC Scotland chair Dr Alan McDevitt cautioned against doing anything which places further pressures on overstretched GPs or does anything to make a career as a GP ‘less attractive’.

GP opening hours over Christmas and New Year are the source of annual rows on cover with NHS England this year warning practices they may have to work throughout if out of hours services could not cope.

The review in Scotland will be carried out in partnership with the Royal Colleges and BMA and follows Professor Sir Lewis Ritchie’s National Review of Primary Care Out of Hours Service.

It has been asked to report by summer with any early recommendations being in place for the Easter break where possible.

Ms Robison explained she wanted to build on progress already made.

‘This review will examine what more can be done to reduce the impact of public holidays on patients who need care during this period.

‘Services such as pharmacy, social work, GP, NHS 24, and hospital services including diagnostics, all have an important role to play in ensuring the smooth discharge of patients or avoiding unnecessary hospital admissions.

‘This is not about asking our doctors, nurses, social workers, pharmacists, or paramedics to work even harder, this is about looking at how we work in different, integrated ways to benefit both patients and service providers,’ she said.

Dr McDevitt said it was important to remember that if a patient needs to see a GP on evenings, weekends and public holidays then the out of hours service is already there to ensure that they are able to do so

‘In the midst of severe difficulties in recruiting and retaining GPs, we need to be incredibly careful not to do anything that risks making a career as a GP less attractive and undermines efforts to ensure we have enough GPs to meet Scotland’s needs.

‘Vacancy rates at GP practices are already running at around 28% and we simply cannot afford that situation to get even worse.’

He added: ‘Health boards are fully aware when public holidays are approaching and should be capable of putting staff and resources in place to manage them.’

The shortage of GPs in Scotland has led to staffing problems for out of hours services, including other health professionals having to provide cover.

Trials are being done testing a more prominent role for nurses in providing out of hours care.