1 | Exploring life as a rural GP in Skye, Scotland

Updated: Jul 24, 2018

If you think the GP recruitment and retention crisis is the same challenge everywhere, spare a thought for your colleagues working rurally.

Quiraing Trail, Skye

It looks gorgeous and sounds so romantic - the barefoot doctor (but in wellies) with her old-school doctor bag, going from house to house; healing, comforting, pragmatic. A pillar of the community, appreciated by young and old. The boy she delivered into the world herself 25 years ago serves her pint at the local whilst his own daughter runs around her (she saw her in clinic this morning). The local sheep farmer enters, tips his hat to her and she feels warm in the comfort of knowing hers is a true vocation (but also the crackling pub fireplace adds to this). The fluidity of her professional and social life, though not for everyone, is something she really values.

There’s a lot to suggest that this stereotypical, mythical creature is dying away, and it's a global problem. There’s a lovely film that paints a better picture than I did above. If you’re into French cinema check out Irreplaceable.

Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? But what is the reality?

Despite the lack of accurate data, the challenges of rural GP recruitment and retention are widely reported. There is a general workforce crisis in General Practice all over the UK, but this is felt all the more acutely in rural areas. I’d read about the issues in Scotland and decided to take some annual leave to explore the rugged beauty of Skye and speak to GPs working there to learn what life as a rural GP is really like. 

I had initially set out for this piece to be a podcast for 2 GPs in a Pod. However, as things evolved I realised it would be criminal to miss out on some great visuals, so what you're reading is a veritable melange of media to gorge on. A (hopefully) harmonious orchestra of image, text, video and sound. I captured a series of short videos, mainly interviewing the incredible, inspiring clinicians practising in Skye. I wanted to dig deeper into what the barriers were for people to consider working rurally, but more than that what made people decide whether to stay or leave once there. And to also try and unpick what was being done to address the problem.

The problem is compounded by a concern from many that rural General Practice may get 'left behind' in the shiny new Scottish GP contract, mainly owing to the notion that resource allocation does not accurately recognise the difference in care provided in a rural setting compared to urban.

Remoteness isn't merely due to distance.

A short flight to Inverness meant I could stay in town for the night aboard a boat. I hopped into my rental car to explore the area and stumbled across the spot on the video, where I talked about why I was going to Skye.

After a wee dram or two, I set off the following morning on the drive to Skye.

I was going to be staying with rural GP and old university friend, Dr Richard Moss. We hadn't seen each other since university (10 years) and it was great to be greeted by his lovely family that evening after a smashing drive through sideways rain.

A GP partner in Portree, Richard had left God's own country (Yorkshire) with his wife with the plan to stay in Skye for a year. Four years and two kids later, he was still living the dream. I was really keen to find out what it was that had made him decide to stay and put roots down here.

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