Scheme to address Scots GP shortfall boosts recruitment

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stethoscope on filesImage source, PA

A scheme to tackle a shortage of GPs in some of Scotland's most isolated communities could be rolled out.

The Joy initiative, aimed at helping doctors "rediscover the joy of general practice", operates in four health boards in the north of Scotland.

It has so far seen 27 doctors recruited from other areas to work up to 18 weeks a year in practices that previously found it difficult to attract a GP.

The scheme was pioneered by Orkney GP Dr Charlie Siderfin.

It has been used in the areas covered by NHS Highland, Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland.

'Not a sticking-plaster'

Doctors are attached to a rural practice for one to four weeks at a time, and have to provide short notice cover, aimed at supporting practices with only one doctor through periods of sickness or compassionate leave.

Dr Siderfin said: "We advertised for GPs through the British Medical Journal and the response was excellent.

"I think in part because GPs see this as a collaborative and systematic effort to address recruitment and retention issues rather than a sticking-plaster approach."

Image source, Getty Images

One of the doctors recruited through the initiative is Shropshire GP Dr Helen Willows.

She has been used to plug gaps in Scalloway and Brae in Shetland and in Stornoway in the Western Isles, while continuing to work as a locum GP in her home area.

Dr Willows said: "I started working in medicine relatively late in life, when I was in my 30s, and at 62 I feel I have plenty of energy to take on something different. The Joy is certainly that.

"It's pretty full-on work, but I'm able to practise as what I would call 'an old-fashioned GP'. I can think creatively and independently and I don't have to involve myself in much of the bureaucracy that can be involved in general practice."

Image source, PA

Governance and evaluation of the project is the responsibility of the Scottish Rural Medicine Collaborative (SRMC), which was set up with Scottish government funding last year.

Ralph Roberts, from the SRMC, said that The Joy was helping to improve GP recruitment to some of the country's more isolated communities.

He said: "For a variety of reasons many rural practices have found it difficult to attract and keep doctors.

"Working in remote and rural areas isn't necessarily for everybody but The Joy is undoubtedly making it a much more attractive preposition."

It will be showcased at the Royal College of General Practitioners' annual primary care conference and exhibition in Liverpool from 24-26 October.

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