A scheme designed to help GPs rediscover their enjoyment in their vocation has helped to fill gaps in medical practices in Stornoway.

The ground-breaking initiative hosted by the Scottish Rural Medicine Collaborative (SRMC) is called ‘Rediscover the Joy of General Practice’ – but has been shortened to ‘The Joy’ by those taking part.

NHS boards in the Western Isles, Highland, Orkney and Shetland have been taking part, in a bid to address the longstanding problem of recruiting and retaining GPs in isolated communities. Scottish Government money supported the scheme and the result has been a success for the Western Isles.

The first phase of the programme saw 26 doctors signed up to work for 12 to 18 weeks a year in a remote or rural community. They are attached to a rural practice for one to four weeks at a time and are asked to provide two weeks a year of short-notice cover, generally to support single-handed practices at times of sickness or when compassionate leave is required.

One of the doctors who has been working in Stornoway is Shropshire GP Dr Helen Willows. She said: “I started working in medicine relatively late in life, when I was in my 30s, and at 62 I feel I have plenty energy to take on something different. The Joy is certainly that. It’s pretty full-on work but I’m able to practise as what I would call an old-fashioned GP. I can think creatively and independently and I don’t have to involve myself in much of the bureaucracy that can be involved in general practice.”

Also lined up for a stint in Stornoway over the winter is Dr Peter Glennon, 62, who recently retired from general practice in Stafford. He said: “I could have carried on working as a locum in Stafford but I was drawn to the challenge of The Joy. I still have plenty drive and energy, and that’s certainly needed with this work.

“It can be challenging. Working in remote locations, you need to be a super-generalist and be able to deal with just about anything. I understand that some GPs may be apprehensive about working in communities far away from big hospitals, for example, but that’s part of the appeal for me.”

Ralph Roberts, the SRMC’s senior responsible officer, said that although The Joy was still in its infancy, it was one way of helping to improve recruitment to some of the country’s more isolated communities. He said: “For a variety of reasons many rural practices have found it difficult to attract and keep doctors. Working in remote and rural areas isn’t necessarily for everybody but The Joy is undoubtedly making it a much more attractive preposition.”

Martine Scott, the SMRC’s programme manager, is showcasing The Joy and the work of the SRMC at the Royal College of General Practitioners’ annual primary care conference and exhibition in Liverpool today (Friday October 25th).