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Scottish workforce plan delayed as GPs warn shortages are getting worse

GPs have expressed their dismay at yet another delay to a key Scottish Government workforce plan, amidst fears there will not be enough staff to fill new primary care teams.

The integrated health and social care workforce plan was originally due at the end of 2018, but was delayed until January, and has now been delayed further still.

The plan is intended to bring together several bits of work, setting out a reorganisation of health and social care in Scotland, including proposals for ‘enhanced and expanded multi-disciplinary community care teams’ in primary care as set out in the new GP contract.

In light of continuing delays, GP leaders are calling for urgent action, and warning that the new plan must get it right.

In a report, published in October, the auditor general warned of significant workforce challenges, with problems recruiting enough staff, long-term vacancies and an increase in sickness absence and staff turnover.

A quarter of practices reported a GP vacancy in 2017/18 and 27% of advertised GP jobs took six months to fill, the report found.

The Government has now confirmed the plan will be published this year, but said workforce supply pressures are being compounded by the impact of Brexit, which it would also be addressing through an international recruitment drive.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: ‘Work is under way to develop a comprehensive plan to help address some of the recruitment and retention challenges faced by our health and care sector.

‘We are also currently taking our safe staffing legislation through the Scottish Parliament – the first multidisciplinary workforce and workload planning legislation in the UK.’

But the BMA warned there is no more time to waste, as staff vacancies are making it increasingly difficult to deliver the best patient care.

BMA Scotland chair Dr Lewis Morrison said: ‘History tells us that workforce plans over many years have not necessarily been successful, so getting any new one right is important.

‘Unfortunately the state of staffing in Scotland’s healthcare services, as evidenced by our survey of members as well as official vacancy rates, emphasises the urgency now required in addressing this.

‘We need clear and practical plans now that will help recruit new doctors to Scotland’s NHS and retain those have committed to working here.’

Lothian LMC chair Dr Drummond Begg explained locally there are not enough pharmacists, physiotherapists and nurses to fill the roles needed.

He said: ‘A real disappointment has been the failure to train enough pharmacy technicians to support the pharmacotherapy service and we have asked that this be looked at as a priority.

‘The demand/capacity gap in health and social care remains significant and Lothian GP sub-committee tries to instill a sense of urgency in those tasked with developing our workforce.’

GP leaders previously warned that failure to plan for the numbers of new nurses, pharmacists, physiotherapists and other healthcare staff could hinder GP efforts to implement plans outlined in the new Scottish GP contract.