Scotland comment on Scottish Parliament statement

Dr Chris Williams, Joint Chair of RCGP Scotland, said:

"At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, GPs and their teams rapidly altered the way in which they deliver care to patients; scaling up, virtually overnight, the technology available for patients to access remote consultations. Offering remote consultations, either by telephone or virtually, has ensured that general practice has been able to continue to provide care safely throughout the pandemic. Face to face appointments have been available to patients when they have been deemed clinically necessary, usually following a telephone call with the practice or remote consultation with a member of the practice team.

"We recognise that many patients prefer face to face appointments; indeed, many GPs prefer to deliver care in this way too. RCGP Scotland is clear that the future of general practice should be a mixed model of remote and face to face appointments that meet the needs of the individual patient. We also want to ensure that our patients are able to spend more time with their GP - this is why we strive to deliver 15-minute appointments as standard.

"While we continue to work towards this favoured method of delivering GP services, we cannot lose sight of the fact that our health service is still operating under extremely difficult circumstances and unfortunately it simply isn't possible to deliver to the extent that we would like at the moment.

"The risks still posed by the incredibly high number of cases of COVID-19 in our community to our most vulnerable patients remains a very real and immediate concern. We have to do all that we can to ensure that general practice is a safe environment for all of our patients and that all those who are in need of care are able to access this as quickly and safely as possible. In many cases this means through remote consultations.

"General practice is currently experiencing unprecedented workload demands and with winter around the corner, these demands will undoubtedly increase. Earlier this year, a survey of our members reported that 73% of respondents are concerned that their workload will negatively affect their ability to deliver care for their patients this winter. The relentless circumstances within which GPs and their teams are caring for patients will undoubtedly have an impact on the retention of staff within our profession. We were already facing a workforce crisis before the pandemic and quite simply, we cannot afford to lose any more GPs.

"We believe that there is a key role in modern general practice for remote consultations and would oppose any moves to deny patients this option of accessing care by reinstating pre-pandemic ways of working.

"With COVID-19 still posing a threat, we view targets such as those suggested this afternoon in Parliament as meaningless. Updated guidance was issued to primary care last week from Public Health Scotland on social distancing within healthcare settings, with the view of GPs and their teams being able to offer more face to face appointments in time. Practices across Scotland are now working to ensure that they can implement this guidance as quickly and safely as possible.

"We would ask that patients bear with GPs and their teams as they consider and implement changes that will ultimately allow them to increase footfall within practices. GPs and their teams are also working within the confines of the physical spaces within which they work and as such, the processes that will be introduced are likely to differ across the country.

"Instead of arbitrary targets, which we feel would not benefit either patients or the wider health service, we need to see concerted and urgent action in a range of areas that would improve general practice and ultimately the standards of care that patients receive.

"Key to this is a need for credible workforce planning to ensure that we have an appropriately staffed service, which of course has to be underpinned by adequate funding. We have long called for 11% of the total NHS Scotland budget to be provided to general practice. Adequately resourcing the frontline of our health service will ensure that general practice can reach its full potential and help to manage demands on other parts of the healthcare system.

"We look forward to continuing to work with the Scottish Government and MSPs from across the political spectrum to ensure that general practice has what it needs to deliver the highest standard of patient care now and in the future."

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Notes to editor

  1. RCGP Scotland represents a network of around 5,000 doctors in Scotland aiming to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standard of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on resources, education, training, research and clinical standards.
  2. Figures taken from the 5th wave of the RCGP Annual Tracking survey. 235 responses from GPs working in Scotland. In field 6 March – 5 April 2021.