'Fresh ideas' needed to combat GP shortages in rural Aberdeenshire

Mr Bowie spoke after Audit Scotland found a recognised risk for health chiefs in its annual audit of the Aberdeenshire integrated joint board.
Mr Bowie spoke after Audit Scotland found a recognised risk for health chiefs in its annual audit of the Aberdeenshire integrated joint board.

The Scottish Government has been challenged to come up with “fresh ideas” to combat GP shortages in rural Aberdeenshire.

West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine MP Andrew Bowie said a “very limited” monetary incentive had failed to tempt trainee doctors to smaller communities.

A record number of GP practices are being run directly by health boards amid a spiralling crisis in recruitment and retention of family doctors.

Mr Bowie spoke after Audit Scotland found a “recognised risk” for health chiefs in its annual audit of the Aberdeenshire integrated joint board.

The Conservative MP said: “I am aware of several health centres in the local area which have been taken over by NHS Grampian and are still struggling to fill their GP quota.

“The Scottish Government last year offered a £20,000 ‘golden hello’ payment for a paltry three doctors to come to NHS Grampian.

“We don’t know whether any of the three came to Aberdeenshire but the scope of opportunity shows a lack of imagination.

“Money alone won’t solve the shortage but a one-off payment to defray higher living costs might sweeten the pot for young doctors just starting out.”

Rising numbers of GP vacancies are being experienced in urban areas, as fewer junior doctors specialise in general practice and many GPs are seeking early retirement due to pension caps.

However the crisis is keenly felt in rural areas where a GP may be the only local health service provider for many miles.

The Audit Scotland report for 2016/17 commented: “A key factor in the success of integration is the contribution of GPs and other community workers, not only in planning for services but ensuring that they play their role in shifting patients towards community based services.

“The area covered by Aberdeenshire IJB has a number of key towns but is otherwise largely rural.

“NHS Grampian and Aberdeenshire Council already experience resource pressures across the area, for example, there is a shortage of GPs and care workers.

“This is a recognised risk for the IJB which it will continue to monitor.”

The Scottish Government announced 100 additional training posts in August, 37 of which would come with the £20,000 bonus, in an attempt to boost numbers for ‘hard to fill’ posts in rural, remote and deprived areas.

In response to a parliamentary question from Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, the health secretary said the one-off bursary had only been attached to two positions in the NHS Highland area and three in NHS Grampian.