General Practitioners (Rural and Remote Practices)

Dennis Robertson (Aberdeenshire West) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to help recruit and retain GPs in rural and remote practices. (S4O-03377)
The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing (Alex Neil): The Scottish Government is working with NHS Highland to promote a range of initiatives to recruit and support GPs working in remote and rural areas throughout Scotland. Recruiting GPs into remote and rural locations is always a difficult task, and we completely understand the frustration that the issue is causing in local communities that are without a permanent GP.One strand of work, which is supported by £1.5 million of funding from the Scottish Government over four years, is to develop and test innovative ways of delivering healthcare in rural Scotland. The traditional approach to recruitment has not been successful, so as part of that work we are developing, with the support of a marketing expert, a bespoke recruitment exercise, which will be in place by the summer.
Dennis Robertson: I have met several GPs in my constituency of Aberdeenshire West who are concerned about their work overload because of the ageing population and that medical students will not come through the system to replace the GPs who are coming up for retirement. What can be done to alleviate that issue?
Alex Neil: National recruitment data shows that recruitment into GP training remains high, with a 92 per cent fill rate. The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Michael Russell, and I recently agreed to increase the number of trainees and specifically to encourage people who live in rural areas to enrol in medical school. There is clear international evidence that people who come from rural areas tend to go back to those areas to live and work once their training is completed.We are tackling the problem, and I recognise the issues. Many communities, particularly the remoter ones, have particular problems. We are working with the Royal College of General Practitioners, the British Medical Association, the health boards and a range of other people to try to address the problem. I should, however, remind members that the number of GPs per head in Scotland is actually the highest by far in the whole of the United Kingdom.