By Bill Heaney

Pressure on is mounting on local doctors and Dumbarton constituency MSP Jackie Baillie wanted answers this week from  the Scottish Government as to what action it is taking to protect primary care services.

She told the Scottish Parliament of her concern in light of new reports showing the workforce and demand pressures on general practice throughout the country.

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, Humza Yousaf,  assured her: “We are absolutely committed to ensuring that being a GP remains an attractive career choice with a manageable workload.

“I am immensely grateful to general practitioners and GP practice staff up and down the country, who are doing an incredible job during a period of significant challenge.

“Despite the pandemic, we have recruited 3,220 whole-time-equivalent healthcare professionals to provide support to GPs, underpinned by an investment commitment of more than £500 million since 2018.

Labour health spokesperson Jackie Baillie, SNP Cabinet Secretary for Health Humza Yousaf and Conservative spokesperson Dr Sandesh Gulhane.

“We have a record number of GPs working in Scotland, and we are committed to having 800 additional GPs by the end of 2027.”

Mr Yousaf appears not to have grasped the fact that many people find it difficult to get their head round these estimates made in millions and billions,  or that many Scots are not computer literate.

Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson told Mr Yousaf that he should know that statistics for 2022 show that the WTE number of GPs has fallen to 3,493.

“That is 81 fewer than in 2017, when the Scottish National Party announced its intention to boost GP numbers,” she said.

It was also not long before the Health and Social Care Committee aligned with West Dunbartonshire Council unfairly dismissed a popular GP, Dr David Neilson, pictured right, and wrongly shut down his practice at Dumbarton Health Centre. A petition from his patients against this decision was completely ignored by the HSCC, but Dr Neilson was completely cleared by an Employment Tribunal.

Dr Neilson returned to work this week as a partner in another practice there, however. Since his “sacking” he had been working as a locum GP.

Ms Baillie said that Dr Andrew Buist of the British Medical Association has since said that the SNP government’s failure to boost GP numbers and provide sufficient funding has locked primary care into a ‘vicious circle’ of rising workloads forcing GPs out of the profession.

Humza Yousaf told MSPs: “I am sure that Jackie Baillie knows—it was probably just an oversight—that our target for the period between 2017 and 2027 was based on headcount.

“Of course, the overall GP headcount has increased by 291 from 4,918 to 5,209, so there has been an increase in the GP headcount and we are making good progress towards the 800 figure.

“On the whole-time equivalent issue that Jackie Baillie raises, we are engaging with Dr Andrew Buist, who I meet very regularly, and the Royal College of General Practitioners on what more we can do in relation to retention.

“However, it should be recognised that having more flexible working patterns is a good thing; it helps with work-life balance, which we hope will help with GP retention.

“I commend the RCGP report that was released just before Christmas, which focuses on a number of initiatives that the Government might want to explore in relation to the retention of GPs. We will continue to engage with the BMA and the RCGP on those important issues.”

Tory health spokesperson Dr Sandesh Gulhane interjected: “Announcing total funding hides the fact that the Scottish Government may make cuts this year to GPs and primary care.

“The pressure on GPs will only increase, given that we have 23 fewer GPs than last year. Yesterday, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde announced that it is pausing non-urgent elective surgery and going on to an emergency footing—despite the money—which will increase the pressure on primary care.

“On BBC Radio Scotland today, we heard from many people who are suffering from long Covid and who say that the service is failing them.

“A nurse whom we cheered and clapped for during the pandemic says that she will lose her job and her home because of long Covid.

“If patients are saying that they cannot get help from hospitals, they will go to their GP and increase the pressure. What more is the cabinet secretary willing to do to help long Covid patients?

Humza Yousaf replied: “Dr Sandesh Gulhane is right: we had to make some really difficult choices around our budget this year, including the re-profiling of funding for primary care. We did that because his party completely mismanaged the economy of the United Kingdom, and high inflation costs meant that our budget in the health and social care portfolio was worth £650 million less than when we set it in December last year. Difficult decisions had to be made because we do not have the full fiscal levers in our hands.

“We will continue to invest in multi-disciplinary teams, which will help to spread the workload from GPs to other members of staff. We will also continue to invest in NHS 24, for example, from which people get really excellent advice.

“I announced the additional recruitment of 200 staff for long Covid, and Sandesh Gulhane knows that we have committed £10 million over three financial years. We will continue to invest that funding to help long Covid sufferers as well as anybody else who is suffering from any condition at a time of great pressure on our national health service.”

Humza Yousaf added: “The period over the past few weeks has been and continues to be one of the most difficult periods that the NHS has faced in its existence. We know that that is a result of the cumulative impact of the pandemic, the rise in Covid cases.

“The Office for National Statistics released the most recent data, the figure was one in 25—and the fact that flu cases are higher than they have been in many years, together with the rise in cases of Strep A and other viral infections.

“All of that was combined with the festive period and a snap of cold weather. The combination of those factors has made it a really difficult period for the NHS and social care up and down the country.

“We helping with the issues around discharge and investing further in the NHS 24 service that is available up and down the country.

“Difficult decisions will have to be made at a local level, but I hope that those difficult decisions will be time limited. As the additional support that we have provided kicks in and as the flu and Covid cases begin to abate, as, in time, I hope they will, that will help the health service through what has been a really difficult time.” 

One comment

  1. Read the weasel words by Humza Yousaf in his statement.

    “Despite the pandemic, we have recruited 3,220 whole-time-equivalent healthcare professionals to provide support to GPs, underpinned by an investment commitment of more than £500 million since 2018.”

    He’s not addressing the issue of a shortfall in GP numbers. Rather he’s obfuscating to say that he’s recruited 3,200 whole time professional to support GPs.

    What’s whole time equivalent and could this be a army of dieticians, podiatrists, phlebotomists and other such ancillary staff. And of the staff said to be recruited. how many staff have left or retired over the last 5 years – because 5 years is what he is talking about.

    Talk about weasel words. Dissembler, liar or just a two bit SNP politician spinning like a top.

    Well Weasel, we are short of doctors and your utter spin does not disguise this. There are reasons why Scotland is short of GPs. Failure to train doctors. Failure to fund enough doctors. Shortfalls due to European and further afield doctors leaving service due to Brexit. And last of all in the current crisis, the tsunami of people taking ill because of their inability to heat their homes.

    And that last one is a big one. 2,000,000 people across the UK on pay as you go meters were self disconnected with no heat or lighting for more than 48 hours. And that is before you count the people on monthly or quarterly bills who are struggling to heat their homes.

    No surprise then that last month in Scotland over 800 people were ambulanced to hospital suffering from hypothermia. But before hypothermia there are a whole host of deadly health emergencies that affect folks with heart, lung and respiratory problems. The energy companies may be making astronomical profits but our NHS is in chaos, people are dying – and no one, not even the Weasel stumps up to say the absolute barbaric truth.

    But maybe to die in misery in your house, or in the back of an ambulance having a cold induced heart attack, stroke, respiratory crisis is our due deserts. The Irish in the mid 1850s died in their millions during the Great Famines whilst food was exported to England.

    In 2022/2023 its the same in pig poor Scotland, a country blessed with energy resources.

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