THE leader of Scotland's GPs said he has "heard the concerns" of rural doctors as the new contract for general practice was accepted by a majority of the profession.

Members of the BMA's Scottish GP Committee (SGPC) approved the new GP contract at a meeting in Edinburgh, after it emerged that 71.5 per cent of GPs had voted 'yes' to the contract compared to 28.5 per cent against in a postal ballot conducted between December and early January. 

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The contract had the highest support among GP partners but was also backed by a majority of salaried, locum and trainee GPs.

Despite a bid by Highland GPs, no regional breakdown of the vote was provided. It is feared that the new contract's workload-based funding allocation formula will have split the ballot between rural and urban doctors. 

Figures provided by BMA Scotland also reveal a surprisingly low turnout, with just 39 per cent of GPs in Scotland responding to the poll. 

Dr Alan McDevitt, chair of the SGPC, welcomed the result.

He added: "As with any poll there are inevitably those who did not feel able to give their support to the contract.

“We have heard the concerns that they have raised with us, particularly around how additional services and health professionals will be provided in rural areas and their concerns about the income and expenses guarantee.

“A short life working group will be tasked with providing solutions so that the contract is delivered in a way that works well for rural areas will be established, which will also look for further ways in which rural general practice can be supported.”

Read more: Contract hands two thirds of GP partners £10k windfall

The Herald previously revealed that the new Scottish Workload Allocation Formula will mean that 68 per cent of GP partners will receive an average of £10,200 a year extra each, but that the vast majority of rural GPs and some working in the most deprived practices in Scotland will get no uplift at all. 

Critics have warned that this will exacerbate recruitment and retention difficulties in rural Scotland by increasing the gulf in potential earnings between urban and rural practices. 

Dr Erik Jespersen, the Oban GP who supplied the figures, said it was vital that the working group represented a cross-section of the profession, but stressed that it "won't change the formula". 

He added: "This poll has divided the profession, but now we have to work together to try to address the problems that the rural doctors raised and in particular address the recruitment problems faced by rural practices, which are the highest in Scotland."

Read more: Call for regional breakdown of GP contract vote 

Dr David Hogg, chair of Rural GP Association of Scotland, said their concerns "appear to have been ignored".

He added: "Along with our Deep End colleagues, we have raised significant concerns about the way in which the allocation formula appears to have been agreed without due scrutiny; placing rural practices on ‘income support’ whilst much-needed funding is missing for GP teams serving rural and deprived populations; and that the dialogue required between rural GP teams and health board management is simply not going to be possible with financial and capacity constraints.”

Dr Iain Kennedy, medical secretary of the Highland local medical committee (LMC), said: "We will be expecting our members at Highland LMC to be very disappointed and concerned by the outcome of the vote. 

"There will be a lot of uncertainty, but we accept the result and we have to sit down and think what this 'yes' vote means for our practices."

Dr Carey Lunan, Chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) Scotland, said the "urgent securing of more GPs" should be prioritised, amid a predicted shortfall of more than 850 GPs by 2021.

Health Secretary Shona Robison “We’ve worked shoulder to shoulder with the British Medical Association to develop this contract, and the fact it has the support of the members means I am confident it is the very best deal for GPs right across the country as well as for patients themselves."