Data collection, and why it is important to rural general practice

I am grateful to those rural practices who have so far returned the expenses and workforce data collection. If you have not yet returned it I wanted to explain why it is important that your practice is part of the modelling we intend to make with the data. If you are not included we won’t be sighted on your particular situation. We know some of you have experienced difficulties beyond your control that have delayed your submission and in such cases I would urge you to contact NSS to alert them if you have not already done so.

We are aware that remote and rural practices tend to have higher practice expenses than more urban GP practices. The reasons are numerous; unavoidably small practice lists have diseconomies of scale, branch surgeries that double your running costs, extra staff costs for dispensing and greater distances to cover. So higher expenses can currently mean that in some cases rural GPs earn less than other GPs. We need information from as many rural practices as possible because we believe there is also significant variation between different rural practices.

Through pay reform in Phase 2 of contract, SGPC are seeking to reach a more level playing field for core earnings for all GPs in Scotland, wherever you may work. We have agreed we will do this through direct reimbursement of the key practice expenses (mainly employment expenses and practice running costs).

We want to ensure that the system we design means that GPs in remote and rural areas will automatically earn a similar core level of income to GPs in more urban areas, rather than relying on income top-ups as is often currently the case. Rural general practice is essential to Scotland with it’s large sparsely populated areas where GPs manage a broader range of conditions, rely less on secondary care due to distance and often provide services that may be carried out by other health professionals elsewhere in the country . We understand that for many in rural areas providing these services is seen as an essential part of being a rural GP. So there are advantages and disadvantages of working in different types of practices but our objective is for all GPs to take home consistent and stable earnings wherever they work in Scotland.

We need to retain the rural GPs we have and we want future recruits to rural general practice to choose work in a rural setting because it provides the type of medicine that attracts them without income acting as a disincentive. We want them to be assured that they will receive a fair income that is comparible to an urban GP and indeed comparible to a hospital consultant.

The information your practice provides will help to ensure we can be confident that the model we agree with the Scottish Government is one that will deliver a sustainable rural general practice for the future. It is in all of our interests to ensure that we get this right.

Dr Andrew Buist is chair of the BMA’s Scottish GP Committee

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