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22 February 2016, 08:42
GPs have lost out on £1.6 billion of investment which should have been ploughed into family doctor services over the last 10 years, according to a leading representative body.
The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) Scotland produced the figure from its own analysis, and said it was the result of "cumulative cuts'' to general practice's share of NHS Scotland spending over a decade.
It means Scots have lost about four and a half million consultations per year over 10 years, the organisation claimed.
The RCGP is calling for the Scottish Government to "stop this decline'' as it lobbies for general practice to receive 11% of the Scottish NHS budget.
Opposition parties have hit out at the "staggering level of underinvestment'' in community health.
But Scottish ministers said the claims "do not reflect the reality'', namely that GP funding has increased each year under the SNP administration.
According to the RCGP figures, in 2005/06 GP funding in Scotland stood at around £696 million, which was 9.8% of NHS expenditure that year.
By 2014/15, funding had reached more than £772 million, but by this time it equated to a "record low'' of 7.4% of NHS expenditure, it is claimed.
The change has led to a real terms cumulative loss of investment in general practice of £1.6 billion compared to a scenario where funding had remained at 9.8% during that decade, the RCGP said.
Dr Miles Mack, chair of RCGP Scotland, said: "£1.6 billion has been cut from the budget of general practice that should have been invested in GPs, staff and infrastructure. Instead, we have a recruitment crisis and patients waiting three weeks for an appointment with their family doctor.
"Mr Swinney (Finance Secretary John Swinney) said in the Scottish Parliament on February 10 that he will reconsider funding for general practice in the light of the recent public outcry. We urge him to make the right choice.
"He can give general practice the kudos and the strength it deserves, make it better for patients and make it a place young doctors increasingly want to be.
"We have now seen a full decade of cuts to the percentage share general practice receives from NHS Scotland spending.''
He added: "£1.6 billion very obviously means fewer GPs, longer waiting times to see them and necessarily reduced services when patients finally get there.
"General practice simply cannot continue along these lines. Without an increase in funding, the Scottish Government's plans for more community-based care will not be met and patient care and safety will suffer.''
Responding to the report, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "The decline in GPs under the SNP is clear to see in every community. There are GP vacancies everywhere and it is hard to get an appointment. And the SNP have done little to tackle the further 700 shortfall in GPs predicted by 2020.
"What needs to happen is for us to grow the share of the budget spent on GPs, with more staff in local surgeries to treat more patients.''
Labour's Dr Richard Simpson, a former GP, said: "The SNP Government in Edinburgh has created the biggest crisis in family doctors for a generation. This is a simply staggering level of underinvestment in the health of our communities in the last decade.
"Family doctors are working in incredibly difficult conditions under the SNP, with the amount of money invested in family doctors slashed year on year.''
But Health Secretary Shona Robison hit back and gave a different figure for the level of GP funding seen in 2014/15.
She said: "These claims do not reflect the reality - which is that funding for GPs has actually increased each year under this Government, rising from £704.61 million in 2007-08 to £852.57 million in 2014-15 - at the same time as we have increased the overall NHS budget in Scotland to £13 billion a year.
"Scotland has the highest number of GPs per head of the population of the four UK countries and under this Government the number of GPs working in Scotland has increased by 7%.''