Rural surgeries ‘facing extinction’ under new GP contract

Rural family doctors say their profession is at risk from the new GP contract.

Surgeries in remote parts of Tayside and Fife are “facing extinction” from a new GP contract that slashes their funding, say rural doctors.

A majority of The Rural GP Association of Scotland’s membership say their practices would be “critically unviable” under plans to reduce their funding by up to two-thirds.

The British Medical Association in Scotland, which is drawing up the new deal with SNP ministers, reacted angrily to what it called “completely untrue” claims from RGPAS.

David Hogg, the chairman of the RGPAS, said rural parts of Courier Country will be affected by a funding formula tilted heavily in favour of urban practices.

He said: “While we are delighted that some of our city-based GP colleagues are going to see a much-needed boost to their resources, it is very wrong that this should be at the expense of rural general practice.

“Rural GP teams provide a much wider range of services as we offer many treatments that would normally be provided in hospital. Much of this work remains unfunded.”

Dr Hogg said the deal left practices “facing extinction” and would compound the recruitment crisis already hampering family practices.

The new contract – which has been agreed between the Scottish Government and the BMA – is due to come into force in April.

It aims to cut workloads and make it easier to run practices, including a fund to help doctors buy or lease premises, and measures to cut paperwork.

RGPAS said there were “large gaps” between allocated funding and protected income, and “uncertainties” over the latter, which makes up the majority of support.

The body said the new funding formula was unfairly based on appointment numbers – and did not factor in the unique challenges faced by rural GPs.

Dr Alan McDevitt, chairman of BMA Scotland’s GP committee, dismissed the claims last night, insisting that no rural practices would lose funding.

“It is completely untrue to suggest that any practice in Scotland will see a reduction in funding and extremely disappointing that this misinformation is being circulated,” he said.

Dr McDevitt added: “The proposed GP contract ensures that every GP practice will have increased or protected funding and if phase two is agreed, the higher expenses of rural practices will be directly reimbursed. “

GPs across the country will be able to vote in a poll on the new contract in the next few weeks.

Meanwhile in Holyrood, the Scottish Government avoided defeat in a debate on GP shortages.

The country faces a shortfall of 856 family doctors by 2021, according to the Royal College of General Practitioners.

The Conservatives said SNP ministers had failed to act on “consistent and repeated” warnings that a shortage was “likely and coming”.

Health secretary Shona Robison said they had come up with a “game-changing new GP contract offer.”

She added: “We are investing in the here and now and we are planning ahead for the challenges to come, that means more investment, more staff, more GPs and it means locally driven change.”