A loan scheme for GPs to borrow interest-free money to help run their surgeries has been given another £20 million in funding from the Scottish Government.
GPs are able to take out long-term loans towards owning practices, with 172 GP practices successfully applying since the scheme was rolled out with £30 million of Government backing last year.
Under the initiative, funding is available for up to 20% of the practice’s value and is repayable when the premises are no longer used for providing primary care for the NHS, or when they are sold.
Introduced in November 2018 in response to concerns raised by the British Medical Association (BMA), the policy aims to ease the financial burden associated with owning a practice.
The Scottish Government say almost half of all eligible surgeries have been approved to receive the money so far.
Speaking at Allander Surgery in Glasgow, which is set to benefit from the scheme, Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “The Scottish Government greatly values the contribution the GP profession makes to the nation’s health, and that’s why we want to make sure they have the support they need.
“Both the BMA and individual GPs have raised concerns with us about the financial risk of owning premises. So we have responded directly, and this scheme helps to ‘de-risk’ general practice and reduce some of the upfront costs GPs can face when joining a practice.
“In doing so, I hope this will make becoming a GP partner more attractive, making it easier to recruit new GPs to a practice.
“This in turn will contribute to our commitment to increase the number of GPs in Scotland by at least 800 over the next decade.”
Dr Andrew Buist, chair of BMA Scotland’s Scottish General Practitioners Committee, said: “At the heart of the new GP contract introduced last year was a clear aim to make becoming a GP a more attractive career choice and encourage more people into working in this part of the profession.
“Key to that is reducing risk and financial burdens around choosing to be a GP.
“This funding is a great example of this principle in action – and the practical benefits that the contract has secured for GPs.
“I am sure it will make a real difference for GPs across Scotland, as the popularity of the scheme has shown.
“While there is still much work to do to transform what it means to be a GP, I believe that through the new contract we are finally restoring hope to the profession.”
Dr Carey Lunan, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners Scotland, said: “We welcome any investment into general practice that makes the profession more attractive as a career. It is encouraging that Scottish Government has seen how direct investment is likely to improve recruitment and retention.
“RCGP Scotland has shown how the country will be 856 whole time equivalent GPs short by 2021. The Scottish Government has an aim to provide an extra 800 headcount GPs by 2027.
“Clearly, anything that helps us gain more GPs, and hold on to the ones we have, is to be supported. As these workforce figures show, however, more needs to be done as a matter of urgency.”
Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Miles Briggs said: “The SNP’s record on General Practice speaks for itself: fewer GP practices, larger patient lists, longer waiting times.
“The SNP has presided over a crisis in General Practice which today sees a predicted shortage of 900 GPs by 2021 as well as a record number of GPs handing back the keys to their surgeries to local health boards.
“It is little wonder GP practices are closing across the country, unable to cope with the financial pressures.
“Scotland’s GPs are at the forefront of our NHS – if we as a country can’t get General Practice right and working to deliver health services across Scotland then the rest of our NHS will continue to be destabilised.”