Jim Hume MSP: SNP risks making GPs an exclusive service that many can’t access

I was interested to see this report in today’s Scotsman which featured Labour and the SNP slugging it out over cuts to GP training posts. People are finding it more and more difficult to get an early appointment with their GPs. You would think that the service that is the most common way for us to access the NHS would be better funded, but primary care now accounts for just 7.8% of healthcare funding, down from 9.8% in 2011.

It is causing a fairly massive amount of concern. You’d think that they’d want to discuss it in Parliament.

Oh wait – they did, but the Scotsman didn’t feel the need to talk about the debate initiated by Liberal Democrat health spokesman Jim Hume just yesterday afternoon.

Jim warned that the failure to recruit and train sufficient GPs risked the service becoming inaccessible to many people. He cited a survey carried out by the Scottish Liberal Democrats which showed that 4 in 10 respondents found their workload unmanageable and a third would choose a different career path.  An SNP MSP typically intervened to blame Westminster for increasing contributions to public sector pensions. In fact, it was day to day work concerns that upset GPs most:

Investment in the tools that GPs have at their disposal to lead the development of new models of care would empower GPs and enable them to provide better services to their patients. Whether we are considering the recently announced investment of £500,000, which I welcome, for the programme for improving out-patient services through better technology or enabling GPs to work alongside advanced nurse practitioners in their practices, it is important to recognise the leading role that GPs play, and must continue to play, in communities.

I urge the Government to improve support and resources for general practices in order to ease GPs’ workloads and the pressures that they face. That support must include reducing GPs’ administrative burdens. We know not only that GPs currently work more hours than they should during a typical day, but that they are also responsible for administrative work when the practice closes for the day.

Instead of being forced to do tasks that are not related to medical practice, GPs should be enabled to spend more time with their patients, have closer working relationships with other professions and have a good interface with other experts who are involved with their patients’ care. With the advent of social care and health integration, we can and should prioritise that.

The problem for the Liberal Democrats in making an issue of GP services is that we are likely to be fighting on the same turf as Labour and it’s difficult for us to make our own space. Even when we try, we just don’t get the coverage. That may not matter on the ground because in our areas of strength we aren’t really fighting against Labour and it is a good campaigning point against the SNP, but in the all important air war, we need to make sure that our limited coverage is used to make unique points. We have to persuade enough of Scotland that we’re worth keeping in the game. Jim and Willie are doing some great work on this issue, and it is important, but we have to make sure that we’re not the third voice that gets knocked off the end.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings