Concerns about reduction of GP practices in the Western Islands

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After recent warnings from the Royal College of General Practitioners that Scotland could be short of more than 800 family doctors by 2021, new figures have revealed that in the Western Isles, the number of GP practices has decreased since 2008.

The statistics highlighted by Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Donald Cameron show that the Islands has lost three practices in the last decade.

The regional MSP also stressed how practice list sizes have increased, with the average practice size in the region increasing by 30% since 2008.

Talking to the Gazette this week about the figures, Mr Cameron said: “The lack of GP practices directly affects waiting times and forces people into Accident and Emergency, putting pressure on those services as well.

“This is a particular problem given how the population is spread across the islands.

“Under the disastrous management of our NHS by Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, we’ve seen a lost decade trying to fix the issues facing our family doctors.

The MSP also talked about the shortage of GPs in the Islands.

He added: “After 11 wasted years it’s quite clear the SNP cannot be trusted with our health service.”

In response to the points raised by Mr Cameron NHS Western Isles detailed: “NHS Western Isles has experienced some difficulties in recruiting GPs over the years and most recently as the role of the GP has also changed nationally.

“Within the NHSWI Board area, smaller more isolated practices have been merged with larger ones for more efficient and effective care for patients, leading to a natural reduction in the number of GPs.”

NHSWI Associate Medical Director, Dr Kirsty Brightwell, added: “Local GPs have been active in recruitment and promotion of working in the Western Isles for many years; and NHSWI is actively involved with the Scottish Rural Medicine Collaborative which is examining a number of initiatives to improve GP recruitment and retention in rural areas.”

Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan commented: “The recruitment and retention of GPs across rural and island areas has been an ongoing issue, which is why this SNP Government is investing £7.5 million over the course of this year to recruit and retain GPs, with a particular focus on areas like the islands.

“Scotland already has the highest number of GPs per head of the population in the UK, but it’s important we recruit more to ensure the sustainability of the service.

“The Scottish Government’s pledge to increase the number of GPs in Scotland by at least 800 over the next decade is something I hope everyone can get behind.

“However, in the Western Isles, we have a much higher reliance on non-UK licensed doctors.

“The current system of free movement has allowed skilled, experienced health professionals from across the EU form not just an integral part of our health service in the islands, but an integral part of our community.

“Only weeks ago the Scottish Parliament heard damning evidence from the General Medical Council that confirmed Brexit is the number one challenge facing our health services.

The poisonous rhetoric Mr Cameron’s party has espoused on immigration, their shambolic Brexit and their refusal to offer clarity to the health sector on a host of post-Brexit arrangements puts all of this at risk.”