Not enough junior doctors choosing general practice, warns BMA Scotland chair

A new Scottish GP contract likely to be published from next month could help attract more junior doctors into general practice, BMA Scotland has said, as figures showed a large proportion of training posts vacant after the first round of recruitment.

BMA GPC Scotland chair Dr Alan McDevitt
BMA GPC Scotland chair Dr Alan McDevitt

Speaking after the Scottish Conservatives highlighted figures showing that many GP training posts for 2017 remain unfilled, BMA Scotland chair Dr Alan McDevitt said: 'Not enough junior doctors are making the choice to train as GPs in order to meet the needs of Scotland’s patients. The decision to create an additional 100 training places [for 2017] recognised the fact that Scotland needs more GPs, but now the challenge is to ensure that these posts are filled.

'It is essential that we do everything possible to make becoming a GP an attractive career choice for young doctors and the new GP contract that we are currently negotiating with the Scottish government can play an important part in that.'

A statement published by the Scottish Conservatives says that '275 of 402 GP training places have been filled after two rounds of recruitment - amounting to 68% of vacancies'. However, the statement later clarifies that this information relates only to the two waves of advertising for round one of recruitment and 'excludes the figures for round two'.

GP training

NHS Education for Scotland confirmed that the figures include only round one of recruitment to GP training places, meaning that the fill rate is likely to rise by the end of two rounds of recruitment.

And although the proportion of available GP training places filled in Scotland is below the level after round one in 2016, the total number of GP training places filled has increased compared with this time last year.

In 2016 250 out of 339 available posts had been filled after the first recruitment round, compared with 275 out of 402 available for 2017.

Scottish health secretary Shona Robison said: 'This government has delivered record staffing levels and high funding for the NHS, increasing investment in GP services every year since 2007. Funding for general practice will increase by £250m by 2021 as part of our commitment to increase primary care funding by £500m.

'The number of GPs has increased by 7% under this government and Scotland continues to have the highest proportion of GPs per head in the UK. Over £71 million in additional funding is being invested this year in support of general practice – as part of that, we’ve increased funding for GP recruitment and retention fivefold to £5m.'

Hard-to-fill posts

The health secretary highlighted the increase in GP training posts available and the introduction of £20,000 bursaries to attract applicants to harder-to-fill places.

On the GP contract, the Scottish government said the deal being negotiated with the BMA would provide a 'strengthened and clarified role for Scotland's GPs'.

Scotland is also rolling out an optional 'bonding bursary' for medical students, offering £4,000 per year for students over a four-year course, with a requirement to work a year in the NHS for each £4,000 sum claimed.

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Miles Briggs MSP said: 'Ministers are fond of trumpeting the number of GP training places they are offering - but they are less vocal about the numbers being filled.

'The reason is clear - Scotland has the highest number of GP training vacancies in the UK. So far this year, 127 places are still empty.'

The Scottish Conservatives have backed doctors' calls for 11% of NHS funding to be spent on general practice.

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