NHS Fife and the Scottish Government “must get their heads out of the sand” and face up to the reality of Fife’s GP crisis, it has been claimed.
Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Claire Baker politician has raised the question “who actually knows what is going on?” amid confusion about who has an overview of the situation.
Mrs Baker first raised the issue in parliament, asking a series of questions to find out how many practices had vacancies, which were experiencing recruitment problems, how many GPs were employed locally, how many posts were being covered by locums and how many GP sessions had been lost because of pressures on staff.
She was astonished when former health secretary Shona Robison replied saying it was a matter for NHS Fife and the information was not held by the Scottish Government.
That was confirmed by a spokesperson who told The Courier: “The response given to Ms Baker is accurate – the information she requested can and should be provided by the health board, who are responsible for local GP services.”
The Courier then submitted a freedom of information request to NHS Fife, covering the same questions but was told it did not hold the information – and to seek answers from each individual GP practice in Fife.
“Fife is clearly facing a GP crisis,” said the MSP.
“Doctors know this, patients know this, yet both NHS Fife and the Scottish Government want to try and keep everyone in the dark.
“This is simply unacceptable.”
“Both the board and the cabinet secretary must get their heads out of the sand and face up to the reality of the situation in front of them.
“We won’t find a solution until they can accept there is a problem.”
She added: “It is simply inexcusable that neither the Scottish Government nor NHS Fife hold this information.
“Yet, there are real questions to be asked over who actually knows what is going on?
“The closure of out-of-hours services in parts of Fife shows that NHS Fife cannot simply pass off the GP crisis as insignificant.”
And she said to contact each practice would place an additional burden on already stretched GPs.
“We need to know how deep the GP crisis in Fife goes and NHS Fife must tell us.
NHS Fife medical director Dr Frances Elliot said: “NHS Fife has been very open about the challenges in recruiting to some GP vacancies.
“This experience is not exclusive to Fife and is replicated by boards across the country.”
As GPs were not employed by the health board, it did not have access to the kind of data it would hold on directly-employed staff.
The information was held by individual medical practices which were ultimately responsible for recruitment and retention.
However, she added the board was active in supporting practices to ensure good access to healthcare.
Where vacancies exist it worked with practices to identify support it could provide.
A Scottish Government spokesperson added: “As the majority of Scotland’s GP practices — almost 95% — are run by independent GP contractors who employ their practice staff directly, management information on GP vacancies and locum staff is not held centrally by the Scottish Government.”