Health Secretary Michael Matheson has told GPs he wants to put them “front and centre” of a new vision for healthcare in Scotland, as he accepted they currently face “extraordinary challenges”.
Mr Matheson said he had tasked officials with drawing up a “vision for our health and social care services” going forward.
And he said: “It is clear to me, though, that primary care is going to be front and centre in that health system.”
The Health Secretary, who was speaking to medics at a British Medical Association (BMA) event in Clydebank, added however that this would require “difficult decisions on how we move finance in order to achieve that”.
The Health Secretary told doctors at the BMA’s Scottish Local Medical Committee (SLMC) conference he recognised the “significant pressure that our GPs and GP practices are facing within our healthcare system at the present time, and some of the extraordinary challenges you are facing as a result”.
The Health Secretary went on to say: “Going forward I am also very clear we need to change the way in which we are doing things.”
He told the doctors he had a mandate from First Minister Humza Yousaf to “take forward work to develop a sustainable health and social care system, to ensure people get the right care at the right time and in the right place”.
Mr Matheson added: “This is a significant challenge and we need to plan for it.
“That is why we are working on where we want to get to in the next 10 years. I have asked my officials to take forward the work to develop a vision for our health and social care services and for plans and actions that will then follow from that.”
But the Health Secretary acknowledged the “really tough environment in which general practice is being provided at the present moment” adding that the winter would also bring “additional pressures”.
His comments came after Dr Andrew Buist, the chair of the BMA’s Scottish GP committee, said family doctors are now “running on empty” as as result of their workloads and a lack of investment.
Dr Buist went on to warn that the current service is at a “tipping point” and will not survive unless urgent action is taken.
It comes as a new BMA Scotland survey of 1,021 GPs found an unmanageable workload topped a list of concerns while the inability to meet patients’ needs within the resources available followed closely behind as the worst part of the job.
The lack of priority given to investment in GP services and the unwarranted criticism of general practice where the inability to get an appointment is blamed on the doctor also ranked highly.
In his sixth and final speech to the Scottish Local Medical Committee (SLMC) conference, Dr Buist used his speech to urge the Scottish Government to safeguard the sector’s future.
He warned general practice was dying a slow, “lingering death”, adding the current trajectory “will lead to great instability and the dismantling of general practice as we have known it, with significant disruption to the rest of the NHS”.
He said: “General practice is running on empty in many parts of the country – and GPs working so hard on behalf of their communities are exhausted and burnt out.
“General practice has been under-resourced for years now. Without the proper funding, numbers of GPs will continue to drop – and the impact is nearly always greatest where general practice is needed more: in particular, areas of higher deprivation and areas of low population density.”
The senior doctor has said that while the Scottish population increased by 7% in the last decade, the number of GP practices had reduced by 9% and average list sizes have increased by 18%.
The Scottish Government has committed to increasing the number of GPs by by 800 between 2017 and the end of 2027.
Mr Matheson told the conference that by September 2022 – halfway through the 10-year period – the workforce had been increased by 291.
The figures for this year are due out on December 12, Mr Matheson said.
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