Health minister Alex Neil told GPs: ‘We need to invest in primary care. You’ll say that’s a typical politician’s platitude, but there is no doubt in my mind that we need to put more resources into the primary care sector.
‘I recognise that we need to put the resources in and that GPs need to have a major role in the design and architecture of services.’
Mr Neil accepted that rising workload was a huge concern for GPs in Scotland, and pointed to measures in the country’s negotiated GMS contract deal to address this.
But he added that he was ‘not precious about sticking to a deal for a particular financial year’ and was prepared to introduce further measures during 2013/14 to cut bureaucracy.
‘I would like feedback from you,’ he said.
‘You come and tell us what it is you need to get the workload onto a much more sustainable footing. Don’t wait for next year’s negotiations. Come and tell me. If you say: "This 48-hour target is a nonsense" – we have an open door. Don’t just say you have a terrible workload, tell us what to do to sort it. I’m happy to do that.’
Mr Neil said he had been determined not to ‘go down the road of the government down south’ by imposing contract changes on GPs.
‘If we are going to achieve what we need to, we need to do everything to ensure the morale of the people who are going to deliver services is as high as possible. You do not get high morale if you impose a settlement,’ he said.
He added that he was keen to see a move towards more outcomes-based targets for GPs, because civil servants ‘cannot micromanage how you run your practice’.
In a question and answer session after the health minister’s speech, former GPC Scotland chairman Dr Dean Marshall said that changing GP contracts was almost never the solution to problems with the NHS.
He told Mr Neil: ‘Demand from the public, rising demand, is unsustainable – no matter how much resource you give us we cannot deliver the level of service that patients demand.
‘We need to ask patients to use the NHS differently. Are you prepared to have that conversation with them?’
Mr Neil said the NHS need to improve management of demand by cutting out unnecessary pressure on services. He highlighted the fact that 68% of ambulance callouts result from drunkenness.
Cutting this figure would reduce demand on many parts of the health service, he argued.