Scotland's health minister told 'NHS is not coping, GPs are struggling and primary care on its knees'

Scotland's health secretary has been told the NHS is "not coping, GPs are struggling, and primary care is on its knees".

Neil Gray came under questioning at the Scottish parliament on Tuesday amid reports that the number of private GP clinics in Scotland has more than tripled since the COVID pandemic as patients have struggled to get appointments on the NHS.

Scottish Labour MSP Carol Mochan asked: "Does the cabinet secretary accept that by not adequately funding GP services, this government have overseen the development of a two-tier health system where the worst off go without and even those on lower incomes are forced to pay for them or their loved ones just to see a GP?"

In response, Mr Gray said COVID was the "biggest shock in the history of the NHS and its effects are still felt".

The Airdrie and Shotts MSP stated that activity in general practice has since returned to pre-pandemic levels.

He added: "False perceptions persist that GP practices are unwilling to see patients, and that perception endures.

"General practice is fundamental to an NHS that is free at the point of need, and we've invested £1.2bn into general practice last year.

"We are working to better understand the increasing complexity of GP appointments and the nature of demand, so we can reform and support delivery of better services to patients."

Figures obtained by the Herald from Healthcare Improvement Scotland - the regulator responsible for inspecting private clinics - show that there were three private GP surgeries registered in 2019. There are now 11.

Ms Mochan highlighted that the number of GP practices in Scotland has fallen by almost 100 over the last decade to 897, and GP numbers dropped from 4,514 in 2022 to 4,474 last year.

The MSP for South Scotland branded it "regressive, not progressive".

Mr Gray responded that per 100,000 population, Scotland has a "higher number of GPs than anywhere else in the UK".

He said: "In Scotland we have 81 GPs per 100,000, excluding specialist trainees. In England that's 62, Wales 65 and Northern Ireland 76."

The health secretary said it underlines the pressure felt across the country in regards to recruitment and retention.

He said: "Which is why I'm so pleased that we have a record 1,200 GPs currently in training."

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Around 90% of all NHS activity happens within the primary care sector.

Dr Sandesh Gulhane, Scottish Tory MSP for Glasgow, told the health secretary: "We are not coping, cabinet secretary.

"GPs are struggling and primary care is on its knees."

Dr Gulhane said the primary care sector is "crying out for better funding" and questioned whether the GP contract "disadvantaged rural GPs".

Mr Gray said he is happy to enter discussions "around where we need to make improvements" in an effort to maintain a sustainable and accessible health service going forward.