Rural health boards are to be given greater flexibility to try and persuade people to take up vacant GP posts.
The Scottish Government and the British Medical (BMA) Association Scotland have agreed to end automatic entitlement to a £5,000 “golden hello” payments for doctors in most urban areas from January 1.
Instead, the funding will be used by boards to make payments to practices where there is evidence of significant recruitment difficulties.
Some of it will also be used to develop a national programme to support former GPs wishing to return to practice.
Golden hello payments will still be paid to GPs when they take up their first eligible post in remote, rural and deprived areas.
Health Secretary Alex Neil said: “In the Highlands and islands there are some particular communities that have been without a permanent GP for a while, and I completely understand how frustrating this is for residents.
“The changes to the GMS contract negotiated today will mean that health boards have flexibility to specifically incentivise GPs to work in those areas that are more difficult to recruit to.
“This will hopefully make the challenge of recruiting to remote, rural and deprived areas easier for boards and help those communities who have faced a long wait for a permanent GP.”
The announcement was welcomed by NHS Highland.
A spokeswoman said: “We are pleased that ‘golden hellos’ have been retained for remote and rural areas as it one way of helping us with recruitment of GPs to these hard to fill posts.
“We also welcome the programme to support GPs who wish to return to clinical practice as this type of support has not been available before.”
The announcement was given a cautious welcome by Dr Alan McDevitt, chairman of the BMA’s Scottish GP committee.
“Whilst the use of golden hellos is a financial incentive that may improve recruitment, it is not necessarily the solution to the challenge of GP recruitment,” he said.
“We need to look at a range of issues that make GP jobs more attractive to applicants.”
Under the new contract, less of a GP’s income will come from performance related pay.
It is hoped this will bring greater stability to general practices, cutting paperwork and freeing up more time for doctors to spend with patients.