Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has insisted he is “very confident” a target for increasing the number of GPs in Scotland by 800 will be met.
Mr Yousaf said the number of family doctors has so far only risen by 275, but he added that “much of the increase” will come in the later years of the target, which is to be met by 2027.
The commitment to increase GP numbers, first made back in 2017, is “extremely ambitious”, Mr Yousaf accepted.
But he said: “I think we are on track to meet that target.”
His comments came in the wake of new research showing just two-thirds of Scots had a positive experience at their GP practice last year.
The Health and Care Experience Survey saw 67% of respondents give a positive rating, when asked about their overall experience, a drop of 12% from the previous survey and 23% lower than when the first survey was carried out in 2009-10.
It comes after GP services were disrupted last year because of the ongoing Covid pandemic, resulting in many patients being seen by phone or virtually to avoid the spread of the virus.
Less than two-fifths (37%) of patients saw their GP face-to-face last year, which was a fall of 49%. Meanwhile, 57% had a telephone consultation – an increase of 46% on the previous year.
Mr Yousaf told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Wednesday that face-to face appointments were “understandably” restricted because of the pandemic.
He added that ministers, along with GP representatives, are “committed” to increasing the number of patients seen in person, but he also stressed this will “be part of a hybrid model”.
But he was clear: “For those who want to see their GP face-to-face, and it is clinically appropriate for them to see their GP face-to-face, they should be seen face-to-face.
“We will see numbers of people making face-to-face appointments increase, I am certain of that, because we have de-escalated some of the infection prevention control measures around health care as we move from pandemic into an endemic phase of this virus.”
On the GP recruitment target, Mr Yousaf said: “We are putting relentless effort, relentless focus, into making sure that general practice is an attractive proposition for medical graduates to go into.”
There has been an increase in GP numbers of 275 since 2017, he added, although he stressed it “would be wrong to think of this as a year-on-year target”.
The Health Secretary added: “There will be various phases of this, and much of the increase will come in these latter years.
“We are very confident we will meet that 800 target by 2027.
“Scotland is starting from a very high base, we have more GPs per head in Scotland than any other part of the UK – and not by a small margin, by quite a distance.
“We’re going to increase the number of GPs, increase the number of other professionals within the GP practice, and I hope all of that will help us meet the demand placed on GP practices at the moment.”
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