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Health Secretary asked: 'When will I be able to see my local GP?'

By Gavin Musgrove

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Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care Humza Yousaf after unveiling the new plaque to mark the opening of the Badenoch and Strathspey Community Hospital in Aviemore.
Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care Humza Yousaf after unveiling the new plaque to mark the opening of the Badenoch and Strathspey Community Hospital in Aviemore.

Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care Humza Yousaf has cautioned that the days of patients getting prompt appointments in-person with their local GPs are changing.

A new report has found public satisfaction in the health service plummeted during the Covid pandemic – with a rising number of patients unable to see their doctor.

Sixty-seven per cent of respondents in The Health and Care Experience Survey gave a positive rating when asked about their overall experience – a drop of 12 per cent from the previous survey, and 23 per cent lower than when the first survey was carried out in 2009-10.

Less than two-fifths (37 per cent) of patients saw their GP face-to-face last year – a fall of 49 per cent.

Mr Yousaf told the Strathy: "We are starting to see more face to face appointments as pressure is decreasing but the way we access GPs will be part of a hybrid model.

"There will be telephone appointments, video consultations and there will be face to face appointments. These are still really important particularly for those who are digitally excluded and the elderly community.

"But the way we access services is inevitably going to change."

He continued: "I am not blaming GPs as they have had it tough.

"They are traditionally in their GP surgeries and unless they are in a big medical centre they are working in quite small spaces which meant when we have two metres social distancing it was a difficult for them to see people face to face with all that infection prevention and control.

"But we are, I believe from what we are hearing, seeing more face to face appointments becoming available.

"The other major anxiety is for people who have been on the waiting list for far too long for their knee operation, cataract surgery, hip operation. That is tough.

"Thank goodness I have never had to live with chronic pain but I think if I did for that amount of time it would be seriously upsetting and worrying for me.

"We will have the Highland treatment centre running very soon and that will make a big, big difference over what planned surgery can be done."

The Scottish Government set a target in 2017 of 800 new GPs to be in place within the decade.

Quizzed on how the government can ensure these are not all in the main centres of populations, and the Highlands gets its share, Mr Yousaf said a priority was ensuring 'eqiutable distribution' of those recruited.

He said: "We will put in place specific incentives for rural areas such as golden hellos, 'Rediscover the joy' programme - extra financial incentives for GPs to come to the more rural areas.

"The early data is showing that these programmes are being quite successful so we just need to be build on this."

Mr Yousaf also said that doctors from overseas could help meet targets. "I think the Highlands has a great offering for people coming from overseas in terms of lifestyle. I think many people would want to raise a family here.

"Part of our international recruitment strategy – which I have been chatting to NHS Highland about – is how do we really target those international markets."

Mr Yousaf was commenting whilst on a tour of the new £20m Badenoch and Strathspey Community Hospital at Dalfaber in Aviemore on Monday.

During the visit he said there remains no greater priority for the Scottish Government than recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic.

He told those gathered at the official opening of the hospital: “From Scottish Government perspective – and I can say this from the First Minister right the way through government – that there is no greater priority for us than to recover from this pandemic.

“It has been hellish – it has been difficult for everyone especially for those with acute health needs.

“So the recovery and re-mobilisation of our NHS is absolutely vital...”

He gave a ‘promise and a commitment’ from the Scottish Government of continued investment but added: “I will also be honest and upfront you because there will be challenges and it will take time. The recovery of the NHS is not going to happen in a couple of weeks or a couple of months. It will take years but there will be an unrelenting focus.”

Mr Yousaf told the Strathy that expert medicial opinion was that Covid would return. “All of them unanimously say that the wave we have just exited will not be the last one.

"There will be another variant, potentially another sub-lineage.

“The positive is that we are a highly vaccinated population with high levels of natural immunity as well so that holds us in really good stead for when that waves hits us hopefully we will not have to bring in really restrictive measures like a full lockdown.”

But he cautioned that it was impossible to be definitive.

"We have firmly exited the last wave but the pressure on the NHS is still high so I suspect that the majority of my time as Health and Social Care Cabinet Secretary will still be dealing with the effects of Covid but it is nice to be able to do a few other things that frankly I did not have the time nor the capacity to do when dealing with the pandemic."

The Health Secretary continued: "There is a five-year plan but I suspect that the way we access our services will change so we will try to deliver more at home, more in the community and keep hospital for those who absolutely desperately need it and even if they are in there they are there for as short a time as possible before being back being cared for in the community."

"It is not going to be cheap.

"We are already in this financial year talking about a record £18b for health and social care and we have promised during the course of this parliamentary term for the actual recovery plan alone an extra £1b so it's going to cost a lot of money but it is the number one priority for government."

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