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It was the first visit to the Scottish local medical committees conference for health secretary Jeane Freeman (pictured) and she quickly showed she had correctly judged the mood of her audience.
What should she do about this horrible cold, she joked, before answering her own question by saying she wouldn’t be taking it to her GP but would be asking a pharmacist.
This, in a nutshell, revealed that Ms Freeman was on message as regards the new Scotland-only GP contract. A central tenet of the new arrangements, which came into force in April, involves directing patients to the most appropriate member of the wider primary care team, freeing GPs up to be the expert clinical generalist, and giving patients a more immediate and hopefully more effective experience.
Ms Freeman is even newer than the GP contract – her tenure began five months ago – but she told delegates at the conference in Clydebank on Friday that she was absolutely committed to it. It was important, she said, to promote the role of the GP as expert clinical generalist and local clinical leader.
You would expect a health secretary addressing GPs to express warm words about GPs, but what about tangible action? There was little new in the minister’s speech, which largely reiterated previous announcements, such as last year’s pledge to increase GP numbers by 800 over the next decade, and efforts to encourage more medical students into general practice.
But GPs welcomed the one new announcement in the speech, which committed health boards to provide data protection officers for general practice – at no cost to general practice. This might seem a small thing, she said, but stressed that it wasn’t a small thing, and that it showed the Scottish Government’s determination to play its part in successful implementation of the contract, and reduce the risks associated with being a GP.
This was ground that had also been covered by Andrew Buist in his first speech to conference as chair of SGPC. While he welcomed the recent announcement of a scheme for GP premises sustainability loans, which allows practices that own their own premises to take out interest-free loans to mitigate the risks of being a GP partner, he said more needed to be done to invest in premises. This is particularly important for delivering on the new GP contract, added Dr Buist, because space was needed for new members of the extended primary care team and for increased numbers of doctors in training and medical students.
Ms Freeman insisted that she was there to listen, and she promised to take immediate action on one issue in particular raised from the floor. Veteran Lanarkshire GP Vjay Sonthalia spoke of the pressure on services locally because of the number of new care homes opening, without any apparent consideration of what this would mean for local GPs. Ms Freeman said she would raise the topic with the minister who was leading new planning legislation for Scotland.
She also promised that she ‘had GPs’ backs’, in response to a question about realistic medicine, the chief medical officer’s strategy to reduce unnecessary interventions and tackle unwarranted variation. Tayside GP Andrew Thomson said that it undermined the doctor/patient relationship when a doctor took a realistic medicine approach, only to have a local politician demand a particular service for the patient.
Ms Freeman said she couldn’t control all of Scotland’s politicians – much as she would like to – but that she was going to continue to support realistic medicine. Sometimes, she said, she would get ‘absolute pelters’ for doing so – a Scots phrase perhaps best described as ‘extreme criticism’ – adding that she would do it, because it’s the right thing to do. The GP audience was appreciative (at least for now) and Ms Freeman left, ostensibly to seek treatment for her cold – from a pharmacist, naturally.
Jennifer Trueland is BMA Scotland correspondent
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Aptoide app was launched for the Android platform as an alternative market for mobile applications. There is no centralized store for this application but the user has the power to create his or her own store.
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