The Scottish government has set out plans to invest £2.5m on offering reception staff and practice managers 'training on signposting patients to the most appropriate source of help or advice'.
The plans aim to inform practice staff about options to point some patients to other local services such as community pharmacists or opticians. Staff will also be trained to 'take on more of the administrative tasks currently carried out by GPs', the Scottish government says, while practice nurses will be offered extra training to cope with patients with multiple long-term conditions.
The funding is being delivered as part of a Scottish government pledge to increase GP funding by £250m a year by 2021.
Scotland's health secretary Shona Robison said: 'We want to reinvigorate general practice and attract more people into the profession. We also want to shift the balance of care into the community, and general practice clearly has a significant role to play.
'By investing in the training of practice staff we can make the whole system more efficient, freeing up time for doctors to spend on their consultations.'
RCGP Scotland chair Dr Miles Mack backed the extra funding, but said: 'Every practice needs well trained staff and I am pleased to welcome this funding through which to potentially make the system better for patients. Any changes to patients’ experience at their general practice, however, cannot be a substitute for increasing the number of GPs available.
'We have called for quite a while for the wider multi-disciplinary primary care team to be expanded. It is right and proper that patients should have the option of going to see a physiotherapist or an optometrist directly, for example. GPs, however, are the keystone for patients and they must remain as such. There are many things that only a GP can do and those services must be protected.
'This announcement should not lead to receptionists acting as triage for patients. Receptionists’ training obviously does not match that of those in a clinical role. Instead, they should be trained to assist patients to the best options within their community. On some occasions an alternative will be appropriate but on others it will not. If a patient wants to see a GP then that option must always be there for them.'
Dr Mack added: 'Practice nurses continue to extend their role for patients with chronic conditions and recent changes to how the quality of primary care is improved will allow that approach to be more patient focussed. Training for them to fulfil that role will be important and something RCGP would be keen to be involved in.'