ONE in four GP surgeries across the Lothians are turning away new patients – sparking fresh fears of a deepening crisis in healthcare.
The situation has deteriorated rapidly in the last five months, when only a fifth of the region’s 127 practices were having to restrict access to doctors.
It is very troubling from a patient’s point of view that it is becoming this difficult to find a GP.Jean Turner
A nationwide shortage of GPs has meant practices are unable to fill vacancies and now 31 Lothian surgeries are struggling to cope.
Family doctors are resorting to more complex methods to stem the demand, with one surgery saying it will only accept the first 25 patients who register at 8am each Tuesday.
It comes as Newbattle Medical Practice, in Mayfield, became the third Midlothian surgery to restrict its patient lists in the last year.
Politicians and patient groups have spoken out over fears that the situation could lead to longer waiting times for appointments and patients struggling to access services.
Sarah Boyack, Lothian Labour MSP, said: “It’s clear that our GPs are under immense pressure.
“I have heard stories from my constituents who have struggled to get an appointment. Urgent action is needed to tackle the serious underfunding of primary care and the recruitment crisis that is facing GPs.”
Dr Jean Turner, patron of the Scotland Patients Association, said: “It is very troubling from a patient’s point of view that it is becoming this difficult to find a GP.
“You need a GP to act as a gateway for any NHS service and that is a big problem.”
Doctors at Leith Links Medical Practice were forced to shift 2000 patients to other practices last April after the surgery failed to recruit enough doctors.
More than 50 per cent of Lothian GPs found their workloads unmanageable, according to a survey by the Liberal Democrats last year.
Dr Jenny Bennison, a GP at a practice in Niddrie, said: “Closing a list is an absolute last resort for GPs. It is not something we do lightly, but it is when you get to the stage that patient safety is at risk.
“When you are trying to see so many patients that you can’t think properly – that’s when mistakes are made.”
Professor Alex McMahon, director of strategic planning, performance reporting and information at NHS Lothian, said: “GP practices in NHS Lothian are working hard to maintain access for patients but many are unfortunately facing difficulties in recruiting GPs – an issue being faced by surgeries across the country.
“The decision to introduce temporary restrictions is never taken lightly but allows practices to cope with pressures and ensure their service remains both safe and effective.”