Scottish budget marks 'small but significant' step towards fair GP funding

GP leaders in Scotland have backed primary care investment in draft budget proposals today as a 'small but significant' step towards reversing a decade-long decline in general practice funding.

RCGP Scotland chair Dr Miles Mack (Photo: Pete Hill)
RCGP Scotland chair Dr Miles Mack (Photo: Pete Hill)

Plans set out in the draft budget for Scotland today reveal that funding for general medical services will rise by 4.4% in 2017/18. Total GMS spending will increase from £786.5m in 2016/17 to £821.4m in 2017/18.

The budget also pledges £72m investment in 'improvements to primary care and GP services' as part of a pledge to increase annual primary care and GP funding by £500m by the end of the current parliament.

'This commitment will mean that by 2021/22, for the first time, more than half of the NHS frontline spending will be in our community health service,' the draft budget says. 'Primary and community care is where most healthcare interactions begin and end and our aim is to have as many people as possible receiving care at home or in a homely setting.

'To that end, we are working with GPs and other health practitioners to transform primary care and GP services, including support for more multi-disciplinary teams working with GPs. We will invest £10m to implement the recommendations of the National Review of Primary Care Out-of-Hours Services.

GP funding

RCGP Scotland said the plans were a 'small, but it is to be hoped, potentially significant' effort to turn around consistent cuts in the proportion of total NHS funding going to general practice, which have seen the profession's share drop from 9.8% in 2005/6 to 7.2 in 2015/16.

RCGP Scotland chair Dr Miles Mack said: 'Having suffered 11 years of cuts to the percentage share of NHS Scotland funding delivered to general practice, it is encouraging to see that trend reversed, no matter how relatively small the change may be. We will need more than encouragement, however, if the long term future of the general practice service is to be secured for the future.

'On 15 October, the first minister announced that: "By 2021, an extra £500m will be invested in our GP practices and health centres." Today, while we are pleased to see that promise beginning to be delivered, it should be clear that there is a long way to go before practices can finally gain the funding they need to safeguard patient care.

'We see regular reports of worsening situations for patients and GPs across the country. Queues form to try to register with a practice with many patients often left disappointed. Practices now tell us of four-week waiting times to get to see a GP. Meanwhile, GPs are working 12-hour days and more to try to meet the demands for their care.

Jewel in the crown

We will be meeting with Scottish government next week to discuss how general practice can be further protected and can build on this announcement, so that GPs can keep going and so that students see general practice for what it should be, a valued and prized jewel in the crown of the NHS, with a secure future.'

GPC Scotland chair Dr Alan McDevitt said: 'The £72m announced today for improvements to primary care is a small step towards addressing the problems facing general practice in Scotland. However the real test will be in making sure that this investment actually provides support to general practice and makes a difference to the workload pressures we are currently facing.

'With around 28% of practices currently reporting that they have at least one GP vacancy, the ongoing problems in recruiting GPs are putting general practice under pressure like never before. It is essential that this investment provides direct support to GP practices and helps to once again make being a GP an attractive option for those starting a career in medicine.

In the longer term, we are working with the Scottish government towards a new GP contract that will be based upon a wider team of healthcare professionals working in the community and it is clear that significantly more resources are going to be needed to deliver this once an agreement has been reached.'

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