Nicola Sturgeon has announced a £30 million fund to help GPs offer more appointments as part of a “significant down payment” of extra money for the Scottish NHS.
The First Minister used her SNP conference speech to set out funding aimed at helping GPs hold more surgeries and face-to-face appointments during the winter months.
Support totalling £30 million will be spread over two payments and can be used to schedule more appointments or pay practice nurses and external locum GPs for additional hours.
Addressing her virtual party conference, the SNP leader said: “GPs will be able to use this funding – which will be delivered in December and April, in two equal instalments – in ways they judge will deliver the greatest impact for patients.
“That might be through extra GP sessions or additional practice nurse time.
“In short, it will allow practices to target investment where it is most needed to improve access to primary care and help ensure patients get the care they need as close to home as possible.”
Ms Sturgeon also paid tribute to the “exhausted” health and social care workers for their efforts during the coronavirus pandemic and said she was proud to have offered many staff the highest pay rise of any UK nation.
She added: “We have promised to increase investment in the NHS – already at record levels – by a further 20% over this term of Parliament.
“We can confirm today that our budget on December 9 will deliver a significant down payment on that commitment.
“In the years ahead, this extra funding will help build new capacity in the NHS and improve the way care is delivered through, for example, a network of elective treatment centres.
“And at the heart of our plans for reform is the establishment of a National Care Service.
“Just as the National Health Service became in the aftermath of the Second World War, this new National Care Service, if we get it right – as we must – will be a fitting legacy from the trauma of Covid.”
Following the announcement, Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman, Jackie Baillie, welcomed any additional funding for GPs but said the £30 million “will not touch the sides”.
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “The contribution general practice makes to the health and wellbeing of communities, through continuity of care and meaningful relationships with patients, is invaluable.
“We recognise that, as face-to-face appointments have resumed and demand is increasing, surgeries are working overtime to meet patient needs.
“This support package will allow practices to target investment where it is most required to sustain the high levels of care they have always provided through what is likely to be the most challenging period in the history of the NHS.”
Chairman of the BMA’s Scottish GP committee, Dr Andrew Buist, added: “BMA Scotland has consistently sought a greater level of support for GPs and we are pleased that the Scottish Government has listened and taken this step in the face of the huge challenges of this winter and beyond.
“With demand continuing to outstrip capacity, this will help support practices in the coming months and plug some of the gaps caused by difficulties in recruiting to practice teams.
“It is particularly good GPs have flexibility to focus funding on what will make the most difference to their practice and their patients.
“As we look ahead to next year and the ongoing threat to the sustainability of practices, this is a welcome addition we have secured in negotiation with the Government.”
Responding to the funding package for GPs, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “There are still major issues with recruitment and retention across our NHS and not enough movement on the part of the Government to solve these issues.
“There are also concerns about whether these resources will be enough to fill the gap, especially in rural areas. For many people even the act of securing an appointment can be fraught with difficulty. It is expecting a lot for this package to solve problems dating from the pandemic, never mind the decade of SNP neglect that preceded it.
“Scottish Liberal Democrats want to offer new hope for patients and staff alike. That means a truly comprehensive NHS recovery plan with clear targets for when treatment targets will be met and waiting times cut.”