Challenges in implementing GP Clusters in Scotland: a comparison of the views of senior primary care stakeholders in 2016 and 2021

Catherine Kidd, Eddie Donaghy, Huayi Huang, Rhian Noble-Jones, Sharon Ogilvie, Julie McGregor, Margaret Maxwell, John Gillies, David Henderson, Harry HX Wang, Stewart W Mercer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Background: Formation of GP clusters began in Scotland in April 2016 as part of a new Scottish GP contract. They aim to improve the care quality for local populations (intrinsic role) and the integration of health and social care (extrinsic role).

Aims: To compare predicted challenges of cluster implementation in 2016 with reported challenges in 2021.

Design and setting: Qualitative study of senior national stakeholders in primary care in Scotland.

Methods: Qualitative analysis of semi-structured interviews with 12 senior primary care national stakeholders in 2016 (n=6) and 2021 (n=6).

Results: Predicted challenges in 2016 included balancing intrinsic and extrinsic roles, providing sufficient support, maintaining motivation and direction, and avoiding variation between clusters. Progress of clusters in 2021 was perceived as suboptimal, and was reported to vary significantly across the country, reflecting differences in local infrastructure. Practical facilitation (data, administrative support, training, project improvement support, funded time) as well as strategic guidance from the Scottish Government, was felt to be lacking. GP engagement with clusters was felt to be hindered by the significant time and workforce pressures facing primary care. These barriers were considered as collectively contributing to cluster lead ‘burnout’ and loss of momentum, exacerbated by inadequate opportunities for shared learning between clusters across Scotland. Such barriers preceded, but were perpetuated by, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Conclusion: Apart from the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the challenges reported by stakeholders in 2021 were predicted in 2016. Accelerating progress in cluster working will require renewed investment and support applied consistently across the country.

Keywords: Primary care reform, clusters, general practice,
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of General Practice Open (BJGP Open)
Publication statusPublished - 3 Mar 2023


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