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Record £150,000 salary offered to solve GP shortage in Western Isles

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Wanted: family doctors to enjoy a life of adventure, “shimmering beaches” and an idyllic landscape. And if that is not enough, what about earning nearly £150,000 a year for a 40-hour week?

That record salary is being offered by NHS executives in the Western Isles in a fresh effort to solve a recruitment crisis at one of the remotest medical practices in the UK, serving the dispersed communities of the Uists and Benbecula.

Doctors’ surgeries across rural Scotland have been struggling to recruit GPs. The Western Isles is among the areas worst affected, and there are fears that the shortage will worsen already significant health inequalities and depopulation across the islands.

After the last self-employed doctor in Benbecula handed back her contract, NHS Western Isles has decided to offer a remarkable pay package to try to lure at least five GPs to move to the Uists and Benbecula to work as contracted employees.

The challenge in the Western Isles is partly due to soaring house prices, fuelled by a surge in crofts being converted into second homes and competition for properties from wealthy retirees. GPs also say doctors’ surgeries on the islands are shabby and cramped.

The pay will include a 40% “enhanced rate” on top of the normal pay range of £69,993 to £104,469 for Scottish GPs, an annual “distant island allowance” of £1,279 a year and up to £8,000 in relocation expenses.

So successful applicants paid the highest salary will receive more than £147,500 a year, including the distant island bonus, and get 41 days of holiday. Recruits will also land a £10,000 golden hello funded by the Scottish government after two years’ service.

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Dr Frank McAuley, the board’s medical director, said in the job description that these posts offered “a very exciting opportunity [to] escape the rat race and practice medicine in idyllic surroundings”.

He said: “From the fishing port of Lochmaddy in the north, to the shimmering beaches of Lochboisdale in the south, the isles of Uist and Benbecula offer a warm welcome and are teeming with life, activity and culture.”

The recruits will be based at Benbecula medical practice and will also work at its 17-bed community hospital.

NHS Western Isles first offered enhanced salaries last year, 6% lower than those now on offer, to fill longstanding vacancies on Barra and Vatersay, the Gaelic-speaking islands south of the Uists.

The British Medical Association, which has been pressing for special measures to address rural vacancies, said these pay rates were proof of how serious the rural recruitment crisis had become.

It said that since 2013 Scotland’s GP workforce overall had fallen by nearly 200 full-time doctors, and the number of practices by 9%, while the number of patients had grown by 7%. Some NHS boards pay locum doctors £900 a day to cover vacant posts.

Dr Patricia Moultrie, the deputy chair of BMA Scotland’s GPs committee, said more than 40% of practices had at least one doctor vacancy. She said these recruitment struggles were the result of years of underinvestment by the Scottish government.

“All this shows it is no longer feasible or plausible to think we can simply go on as we are, believing we are on course to grow the GP workforce required to care for the people of Scotland and serve remote communities like those in the Western Isles,” she said.

The Scottish government said that in addition to the £10,000 golden hellos, it was offering 50 bursaries of £20,000 for trainee GPs to train in “hard-to-fill” posts, and spending £3m over four years on a new national centre for remote and rural health and care.

“We are clear that patients who need to see a GP should always be seen, regardless of their location,” a spokesperson said.

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