The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, Humza Yousaf, said: “We are making good progress.
“Since 2017, the GP head count has increased by almost 300—by 291—and a record 5,209 GPs are now working in Scotland.
“In addition, we have increased the medical undergraduate intake by 448 places since 2015-16, and we will increase GP specialty training by 100 places over the next three years.
“The fill rate for specialty training is also at a record high, at 99 per cent for 2022. Last year, I launched our GP recruitment marketing campaign, and we are providing significant investment in initiatives that ensure that being a GP remains an attractive career option.”
However, Paul O’Kane said Audit Scotland has found that the Scottish Government will fail to meet its own target for increased GP numbers, which is indicative of its failure in workforce planning over many years.
“There is also a significant issue with capacity in GP surgeries. Surgeries are bursting at the seams, and the British Medical Association has found that 81 per cent of practices currently exceed capacity.
Mr O’Kane said he had spoken with GPs who told him that they are struggling to find the physical space to meet demand.
On his own patch, he said they had applied to the Scottish Government for loans to increase space, but the application was rejected.
He added: “If the practice cannot expand, it might be forced to close its books. Why is the Government not giving GP surgeries the support that they need to expand the provision of general practice in their communities?”
Humza Yousaf, who is a candidate for the First Minister’s job, replied that this was not the case.
He said: “They are being given that support. That is why we have increased GP numbers by 291 and multidisciplinary team numbers by 3,220.
“It is about not just having enough GPs—that is very important, which is why we are increasing the numbers—but having those multi-disciplinary teams in GP surgeries right across Scotland.”
MSP Sandesh Gulhane and Cabinet Secretary Humza Yousaf argues over GP numbers.
Conservative MSP Sandesh Gulhane, who is himself a GP, said: “The reality is that the Scottish Government is nowhere near meeting its target of recruiting 800 additional GPs. That is yet another example of promises but no delivery, with £65 million cut from the primary care budget.
“This week, we heard from the BMA that four in 10 doctors are actively looking to leave and that it is looking at balloting to strike.
“A surgeon said that one in four operations for children—life-saving surgery—is being cancelled at short notice due to a chronic shortage of critical care nurses, who are not included in the figures.
“Does the health secretary seriously expect us to believe that the situation is improving? What steps will he take to address those catastrophic failures?”
Humza Yousaf told him: “The fact is that we have 291 more GPs than we had in 2017. The head count has increased. We have a record 5,209 GPs. We have 3,220 multidisciplinary staff, many of whom work across general practice up and down the country. We will continue to support general practice.
“We are increasing our medical graduate intake as well. On top of that, we have a record high 99 per cent fill rate when it comes to specialty training. I will continue to work with the British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners, but the Government has an excellent record not only in supporting but in helping and assisting our general practices, particularly in rural Scotland, where we know there are some challenges. The Scottish graduate entry medical programme is just one example of that.”
LibDem MSP Willie Rennie told the chamber: “I do not think that what the cabinet secretary has said is what Kate Forbes says. The minister has a sunny disposition, but he is spinning a bogus argument. According to Public Health Scotland estimates, the number of whole-time equivalent GPs—not the head count—fell by 26.4 between 2017 and 2022.
“The minister is making no progress; in fact, things are worse than when he started. Why is he not listening to the warnings?”
Humza Yousaf, who has been bitterly attacked by his own colleagues during this leadership debate, hit back: “We are. That is why the head count has increased by 291. On whole-time equivalents, it is, of course, a good thing that we are introducing flexible working, which helps with retention.
“I have already outlined all the key lines and all the key measures that we are taking to support general practice. I do not think that Willie Rennie is in any position to lecture anybody on electoral success. He has presided over disastrous election defeat after disastrous election defeat for his party.”