SNP member for South Scotland Joan McAlpine is calling on the Labour party locally to “stick up” for rural GP practices.
The call comes on the back of a Labour led debate in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday where Labour MSPs demanded the funding allocation for GPs should change to favour ‘deep-end’ practices, largely in Glasgow and the central-belt.
Ms McAlpine said it is not only urban areas that are facing extreme challenges, and appealed to the local Labour party to distance itself from these calls.
Speaking during the debate Ms McAlpine said:
“It is important to talk about poverty affecting all parts of Scotland. In Dumfries and Galloway, for example, wages are lower than the Scottish average and the population is older, which has associated health problems.”
Ms McAlpine said 45% of homes in Dumfries and Galloway suffered from fuel poverty which contributes to ill health - a much higher rate than Glasgow and the central belt.
During the debate Labour MSPs Patricia Ferguson and Dr Richard Simpson said GPs practices in postcodes on the "areas of multiple deprivation index" should get more money.
However at Wednesday’s meeting of the economy committee, of which Joan is a member, witnesses said the index fails to accurately reflect or identify some of the poverty that exists in rural areas.
Ms McAlpine said:
“Experts acknowledge that way we measure deprivation can hide the true extent of poverty in rural areas – never mind the difficulties faced recruiting GPs to rural practices. So its wrong for Labour to demand that it be the main driver for where public money goes."
The shortage of family doctors is an issue affecting the UK as well as other European countries.
The Scottish Government recently announced that it would train a third more GPs to address the issue. Investment in primary care has increased by £80 million since the SNP came into government.
The government is also working with GPs to design a more attractive contract, when the current one is renegotiated in 2017.
Ms McAlpine said it was vital that Dumfries and Galloway was in the forefront of any measures to increase the number of GPs.
“It is not acceptable to just ask for funding to favour those areas identified as being ‘deep-end’, though I accept they face very difficult challenges.
“We need to support everyone who is in need, whether they live in an urban or a rural area. We must recognise that GPs in every part of Scotland are dealing with the consequences of inequality, which are being exacerbated by welfare reforms over which we have little control.
“I hope that the local Labour party will join me in sticking up for our rural GP practices, in spite of these calls from their central belt colleagues.”