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Scottish minister taken to task over small, rural practices

Debate focuses on Government's attitude to single-handed GPs

September 28th 2017

Tagged: political news Scotland Rurality

By Ailsa Colquhoun

The Scottish Government has been quizzed on its attitudes to single-handed and dispensing practices in Scotland.

In a debate on GP recruitment, Shetland MSP Tavish Scott asked ministers whether it is still the Government’s policy to support single-GP practices and how multidisciplinary medical teams fit into single-GP practices in rural areas?

The Lib Dem MSP told the debate that in Shetland, the health board had issued a letter to patients saying that it is NHS Scotland’s policy not to support single-GP practices.

During the debate, Mr Scott also asked the minister to address the issue of dispensing practices following NHS Shetland’s decision to remove dispensing from a practice that went under board control. He said: “Many GP practices across Scotland benefited from being dispensing practices. Health boards appear to be removing the dispensing abilities. That has a significant financial impact on the practice.”

Alison Johnstone (Green, Lothian) added: I have called for fairer funding for GPs in deprived areas… the demands of working with elderly populations are very high, and working in remote and rural locations is challenging, too.”

Responding to Mr Scott, minister for mental health Maureen Watt said: “[Mr Scott] knows that it is up to [health boards] to deliver Government policy according to the needs of their local populations.” The debate was told that as of 1 July 2017, of Scotland’s 959 practices, 57 were run directly by NHS boards. “Sometimes that is the best solution for a local area,” she said.

As for his query about dispensing practices, Mr Scott was told the “trend was taking place long before this Government took office”.

On the wider question of GP recruitment in rural areas, Mrs Watt said that since 2006, the number of GPs had risen by 6.9 per cent, or 315 GPs. In addition, a £23 million medical education package aimed to encourage people from more disadvantaged backgrounds and from rural areas into medicine. “They are precisely the people who are more likely to return to, and stay in, those rural areas,” she said.

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