Scotland faces 'real challenges' in recruiting GPs over next decade, admits Nicola Sturgeon

First Minister announces £27m funding to train health workers amid fears GPs are leaving profession or going part-time

Scotland will face “real challenges” in recruiting GPs over the next decade as many leave the profession or choose to work part-time, Nicola Sturgeon admitted on Wednesday as she announced £27 million of funding to train more doctors, nurses and midwives.

The First Minister made the announcement amid fears of a growing GP recruitment crisis, with statistics showing that nearly a quarter of surgeries in some parts of Scotland are refusing new patients as they struggle to fill vacancies. More than 50 practices have been forced to bring in restrictions on patient numbers as a result.

Announcing a range of initiatives to widen access to the medical profession over the next five years, Ms Sturgeon said £23m would be spent on a new entry level programme for students from deprived backgrounds, alongside incentives for graduates to work in the Scottish NHS after they qualify.

A further £3m will go towards training an extra 500 advanced nurses, while £1m will be spent on a fund for nursery and midwifery students experiencing financial difficulties. “We need to make sure that we are training the right numbers of professionals – in and across different specialities – with the skills they need for the health service of the future,” Ms Sturgeon said.

Addressing the issue of GP recruitment, she acknowledged that the “demographics of the profession” meant that many would soon be retiring at a time when Scotland’s ageing population is placing increased pressure on primary care. “What we need to do is take action now to address that, and that’s why we’ve increased the number of GP training places from 300 a year to 400,” she said.

However, the Scottish Liberal Democrats described the new investment as “a drop in the ocean” which would not deliver the changes needed in time. “This is a recruitment crisis that the First Minister is only just waking up to – and how fortunate just before an election,” said the party’s health spokesman Jim Hume. “This is a rushed response to what she knows are ticking time bombs but will not provide additional resources immediately.”

However, the extra funding was welcomed by Professor Derek Bell, president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. “Widening participation in the medical profession is a key element in addressing the future challenges of the NHS,” he said. “We must ensure that a career in medicine is open to all those with ability and not restricted by factors such as socio-economic status.”