A total of £50m will be invested in sustainability loans for Scottish practices over the next two years – a substantial boost on the £30m already set aside – the Scottish government has announced.
So far around 172 practices – about 50% of the total eligible – have successfully applied for a loan to help ease financial pressure.
Interested practices were asked to apply for the long-term interest-free loans, which are worth up to 20% of the practice’s value, in November, in an effort to make GP partnerships more attractive and take pressure off GPs left with responsibility for premises when partners retire or leave.
The loan, first announced as part of the new GP contract, has to be repaid when the premises are no longer used for providing primary care medical services under an NHS contract of when sold.
Scottish health secretary Jeane Freeman announced the additional £20m for the scheme by 2021 at a visit to the Allander Surgery in Glasgow, a practice which is set to benefit from the scheme.
She said: ‘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 up-front 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.’
BMA Scotland GP Committee chair Dr Andrew Buist said at the heart of the new GP contract, introduced last year, was a clear aim to make general practice a more attractive career path.
He said: ‘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.’
RCGP Scotland chair Dr Carey Lunan said: ‘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 FTE 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.’
GP in Northern Ireland have called for a similar system to the Scottish loans scheme, something which they are in early talks to establish, according to BMA Northern Ireland GP Committee chair Dr Alan Stout.
This story was first published on our sister publication Pulse.