Alternative pathways into primary care (in depth consultation for medical professionals or organisations)

Closed 22 Feb 2022

Opened 20 Jan 2022

Published responses

View submitted responses where consent has been given to publish the response.


The Health, Social Care and Sport Committee is undertaking an inquiry into how patients access primary care in Scotland.  

Primary care services provide the first point of contact in the healthcare system, acting as the ‘front door’ of the NHS. When a person seeks healthcare their first point of contact is usually with a general practitioner (a GP, or family doctor). Our inquiry, however, is focused on other sources of healthcare that exist in the community, which we term ‘alternative’ pathways. 

Alternative pathways to healthcare in the community include: 

  • seeing a different ‘health practitioner’ who works in the GP practice or in the local community, examples of which include:
    • physiotherapists
    • nurses
    • podiatrists
  • being directed to other types of support, sometimes referred to as social prescribing, to improve health and wellbeing which could include:
    • walking groups
    • community groups
    • advice
    • volunteering
  • Using telephone helplines or websites to access additional information or online therapy.

The Scottish Government’s vision for primary care is that teams of different health practitioners will work together to support people in the community, and reduce pressure on GPs. The aim is to ensure that patients can:

  • access the right professional
  • at the right time
  • as near to home as possible
  • to deliver improved outcomes for patients

This inquiry intends to explore how alternative pathways are being accessed and used in primary care. It also seeks to identify key issues and opportunities for improvement.  

Key questions 

  1. What is the current level of awareness amongst health practitioners and patients of the availability of alternative pathways to healthcare services other than seeing a GP? 
  2. How good is the signposting between general practice and other primary healthcare professionals? To what extent are GPs equipped with the information they need to make onward referrals? To what extent are GP practice receptionists equipped to signpost patients to the most appropriate service? 
  3. What is the level of public awareness of options to self-refer to alternative pathways to healthcare? What is the current extent of self-referrals? How could this be improved? 
  4. To what extent is there available capacity amongst other primary healthcare professionals to take on more patients if there was an increase in referrals from GPs / self-referral by patients? 
  5. What potential is there for greater use of alternative pathways to healthcare to ease current pressures on general practice? What are the potential limitations?
  6. What scope is there for greater use of social prescribing to ease current pressures on general practice and to achieve similar or even better health outcomes?
  7. To what extent is best use currently being made of alternative sources of health and wellbeing information and advice (other than a patient seeing their GP) such as telephone helplines, websites and online therapy? What are the limitations / potential pitfalls of increased use of these resources as an alternative to patients making an appointment with their GP? 

How to submit your views

Please submit your views using the online submission form, linked to below.

We welcome written views in English, Gaelic, Scots or any other language. 

The call for views closes on 22 February 2022.


  • HSCS