Health minister takes steps to tackle Lothians GP crisis

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HEALTH Minister Alex Neil has revealed two major reports are under way to improve access to GP services in the Lothians after it emerged one in six surgeries were turning away new patients.

The Evening News revealed last month how family doctors were struggling to cope 
with increasing demand on services.

In a letter to Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack, Mr Neil has acknowledged “access issues” and said he had met GPs to discuss difficulties with workload, bureaucracy and limited time with patients.

The two NHS Lothian reports into the issue are now being compiled, although Mr Neil has warned it could be some time before funding is available.

He said: “NHS Lothian are currently working on two separate reports, that I can confirm has been widely discussed and supported in Edinburgh, but will be subject to further scrutiny and prioritisation before resource-related decisions can be made.”

Health bosses said the first report looks at what changes are needed to cope with the growing demand on primary care caused by an increasing ageing population and growing number of students in the Capital.

The second is a Lothian-wide study into patient demand, capacity and access, highlighting how factors such as new housing developments, increasing migration and changing demographics are affecting local health services.

GPs have complained how growing patient lists and rising numbers of older patients have already stretched them to breaking point, with one in six of the 127 practices in the Lothians turning away new patients.

Ms Boyack welcomed the response from Mr Neil but said action was needed quickly.

She said: “It will be vital that the health minister acts once NHS Lothian reports on meeting the needs of our growing population and a comprehensive look at the demand for primary care services.”

Professor Alex McMahon, NHS Lothian’s director of strategic planning, performance reporting and information, said the draft strategic plan recognised “the important role that GPs played”.

He added: “In order to provide this we need to increase the primary care workforce and review and expand premises, ensuring more services are available to patients closer to home.

“We are currently undertaking a review of GP and practice staff numbers and the suitability and location of premises to help identify areas for ­development.”

kate.pickles@edinburghnews.com