A multi-million pound Scottish Government scheme to attract more GPs to Scotland failed to attract a single new recruit to Fife’s health board in the two years since its launch.
Conservative MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife Dean Lockhart expressed his dismay at the current situation in the region after new figures the GP Recruitment and Retention Programme figures were released.
Ministers announced funding of £2.5 million in the summer of 2015 with the aim of securing more family doctors in rural and deprived areas and a further £5 million worth of investment was promised in March to help entice GPs into the country.
However, health secretary Shona Robison has confirmed that while the project did muster seven new GPs for Tayside, Fife, which has 13 practices with vacancies, has missed out entirely.
“It’s no wonder Scotland is in the grip of a general practice crisis when the SNP government fails so miserably to attract doctors to the job,” Mr Lockhart said.
“This was launched with the promise of delivering GPs for rural and deprived areas.
“Indeed, in response to the rise in locum spending the SNP attempted to use this scheme as evidence that the Scottish Government were acting to alleviate pressure on our GP surgeries.
“Instead, it’s led to a handful of new appointments nationwide which will barely have had any impact at all and has had absolutely no effect on local services in Fife.”
The exact number of GPs needed to plug the gap in Fife have not been divulged, but the British Medical Association estimated in June the kingdom’s vacancy rate stood at 35% — one of the worst in Scotland.
It added there will be an anticipated shortage of more than 800 GPs across the country within the next few years.
The news of the scheme’s apparent failure comes after The Courier revealed many sick people in Tayside and Fife are having to regularly queue at surgeries in the early hours to try and secure an appointment.
That also sparked concerns from senior social work sources that serious health problems are being missed as a direct result of the GP crisis, amid allegations unqualified reception staff have been forced to triage patients.
According to figures released earlier this week, just 18 new GPs have been recruited across Scotland as a direct result of the fund.
“At this rate it would take this scheme almost a century to address the shortage of 856 GPs we’re expected to have,” Mr Lockhart added.
“This is just another blatant failing of the SNP workforce planning, and the consequences on the ground are a population struggling to get a GP appointment, and those family doctors who are left feeling the strain.”
Ms Robison said: “The GP recruitment and retention fund was set up to explore, with key stakeholders, the issues surrounding GP recruitment and retention.
“The programme has examined and taken forward proposals to increase the number of medical students choosing to go into GP training, as well as encouraging those wanting to work in rural and economically deprived areas.
“The fund is also supporting a range of initiatives including the establishment of a Scottish Rural Medicine Collaborative involving 10 NHS boards.”
NHS Fife Medical Director, Dr Frances Elliot, said: “In line with the rest of Scotland, Fife is experiencing challenges in recruiting to some GP vacancies.
“Within our role with the Fife Health and Social Care Partnership we are working closely with GPs to support practices in maintaining and improving patient care. For example, the formation of GP clusters is a forward thinking initiative that brings together GPs from across Fife to consider the challenges faced by general practice, and find the best possible solutions for patients.”