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Scottish Conservatives unveil plans for 1,000 extra GPs

A pledge to deliver 1,000 more GPs is among the headline proposals in a major new policy paper on health published by the Scottish Conservatives today (Friday).

The paper – which leader Douglas Ross will launch with shadow health secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane in Edinburgh – also guarantees that every Scot will be able to get an appointment with a family doctor within a week by raising the proportion of NHS funding going on GP services to 12%.

Entitled ‘Modern, Efficient, Local: A new contract between Scotland’s NHS and the Public’, the policy document outlines solutions to a host of problems that have left the health service “in permanent crisis” under the SNP.

Other key proposals designed to improve patient care include:

  • A ban on the closure of any NHS facility, unless it is to be replaced by a new one
  • An app enabling patients to book appointments, view live waiting times and access their medical records
  • A ‘patient guarantee’ that would introduce maximum waiting times for different treatments, with sanctions for health boards that exceed them
  • A Vaping Restrictions Bill to bring the regulations on vaping in line with those for smoking

 

In a speech launching the paper, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross will say: “The most common way that people interact with our health service is through GP appointments, yet the share of the budget allocated to GP services has declined.

“And the result has been that, since 2012, 86 local medical facilities have been shut down in favour of increased centralisation.

“As a bare minimum people expect to be able to see a GP in a manner convenient to them. That is why we would increase the portion of NHS funding given to GP services.

“This would enable us to recruit 1,000 more GPs; introduce a ban on local health closures, while reopening practices to ensure there are no blank spots across the country; make appointments as accessible as possible by offering online booking and consultations; and introduce a new national standard of one week for waits for a GP appointment.

“This would make unacceptable waits just to see your GP a thing of the past.”

On the problems currently facing the NHS under the SNP, Douglas Ross will say: “We can all see the cracks in a system that is well past breaking point.

“Despite the best efforts of hardworking staff, one in seven Scots – over 800,000 people – are on an NHS waiting list.

“Performance in A&E, cancer, mental health and delayed discharge have all hit record lows in recent years, and more staff are now leaving the service than joining it.

“Our health service is in permanent crisis. Yet the SNP Government offer no vision to turn around the NHS’s fortunes.

“At Holyrood, we have a disgraced Health Secretary that has lost the confidence of the public and the health service. Michael Matheson is too busy fighting to save his own job to give our NHS the leadership it needs to survive.

“While Humza Yousaf is the architect of a flimsy recovery plan that has seen standards fall across our health service since the Covid pandemic – not get any better.”

 

Notes

The BMA have said Scotland needs at least another 1,000 whole time equivalent (WTE) GPs. After publishing a ‘GP heatmap’ which showed GP vacancies across Scotland, BMA Scotland Chair Dr Iain Kennedy said: “All areas are struggling with large workforce gaps. Some are struggling more than others, but crucially what the heat maps indicate is that no area is not facing a medical staffing crisis.” (Scottish Daily Express, 8 June 2023, link).

WTE GPs per capita have declined significantly in the past decade. As of 31 March 2023, there were 3,478.4 whole time equivalent (WTE) GPs. With a mid-2023 population estimate of 5,479,900, that makes 6.35 WTE GPs per 10,000 people.  In January 2013, there were 3,735 WTE GPs in Scotland, and with a mid-2013 population estimate of 5,327,700 that makes 7.01 WTE GPs per 10,000 people. The population has increased, and the number of whole time equivalent full GPs has decreased. (General Practice Workforce Survey, 12 December 2023, link; Mid-Year Population Estimates, 13 July 2022, link).

 

Since the SNP promised to increase the number of GPs by 800 by 2027, GP numbers have decreased by 26. In 2017, GP numbers were around 3,520. By 2022, this had reduced to 3,494. (General Practice Workforce Survey 2022, 29 November 2022, link).

The Scottish Conservatives would invest 12% of the NHS budget into GP services. This would help recruit more GPs, open new facilities and free up more appointments.

We would make it mandatory for online booking systems to be offered to patients. Full utilisation of technology is critical to a modern and efficient health service. Online booking would help ease the early-morning deluge of phone calls to practices from patients seeking GP appointments.

We would introduce a new national standard for GP appointments with the aim of ensuring that no patient has to wait more than a week to be seen. Prompt provision of primary care services is crucial to good health outcomes. This would relieve pressure from services like NHS24 and A&E, and increase access to primary care in rural areas. It would also allow for increased patient choice around accessing services to fit in with their lifestyle.