Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant is extremely concerned for the future of remote GPs’ practices after a prominent figure from the Rural GP Association of Scotland (RGPAS) resigned from a key working group.
Dr David Hogg, Vice-Chair of RGPAS, says that the short life Remote and Rural General Practice Working Group, set up by the Scottish Government in the wake of the New GP Contract, appears to have “fallen by the wayside” when it comes to finding ways to ensure the contract is implemented successfully in rural areas.
Moreover, Mr Hogg says he has become “increasing despondent about us seeing any pragmatic, realistic proposals to reverse the damaging effects of the new GP Contract in rural Scotland”. There is also no-one to take over RGPAS’s representation on the working group because Dr Hogg’s says his colleagues are occupied “trying to safe-guard local services from the threats of the new contract”.
“This doesn’t bode well for the future of rural health care when GPs are stressing that what’s on the table with the new contract is an urban model and this just doesn’t suit remote and rural areas,” said Mrs Grant.
“A recent survey carried out by RGPAS highlighted that 82% of members believed the outlook for rural healthcare was worse under the contract, 88% of members voted to reject the new contract at the time of implementation, while 92% said they would vote to reject the contract based on their experience so far.
“GPs are worried it will cause poor continuity of care for patients and that procedures, currently performed at surgeries, are being centralised – for instance for blood tests or vaccinations. This will inevitably inconvenience patients and worsen health outcomes by raising barriers to care.
“My reading for Dr Hogg’s resignation is that the working group is turning a deaf ear to very serious concerns being raised by rural GPs across Scotland and the Highlands and Islands. He’s tried but he can’t try anymore and the process appears to be painfully slow.
“I will again contact Health Secretary Jean Freeman about this new development asking that she does not brush off the problems suffered by rural GPs, only to hear the views of urban GPs.”
In January Mrs Grant met Ms Freeman in Holyrood alongside Dingwall GP Miles Mack and Inverness GP Phil Wilson, also a Professor of Primary Care and Rural Health at the University of Aberdeen, to discuss the challenges faced by rural and remote practices under the new contract. The issue had been raised with her and with her Labour MSP colleague David Stewart.
GPs have told the MSPs that the new contract fails to recognise the unique workload in rural areas where surgeries deal with a far greater range of medical problems – including emergencies that would be dealt with in hospitals in urban areas.
The contract states that other health care professionals will be employed to deal with extra tasks such as blood tests or vaccinations but Mrs Grant argues there must be flexibility for GPs to retain the old system of care. The new contract’s funding formula has been based, under this new system, on the number of appointments and does not take account of issues in rural areas such as patient and doctor travel.
Note to editors
The short life Remote and Rural General Practice Working Group (RRGPWG) remit is working to support rural areas to deliver the first phase of the new contract. The group members include the BMA, Royal College of General Practitioners, Scottish Rural Medicine Collaborative, Scottish Government, NHS Boards, integration authorities and patient representation.
Dr Hogg’s resignation letter is on the RGPAS website: