PATIENTS across Lothian could be offered same-day phone consultations with GPs after the first trial of a “radical” system was hailed as a success.
Harbours Medical Practice in Cockenzie and Wester Hailes Medical Practice have become the first in Scotland to offer the service, which sees patients call the surgeries and GPs call them back, usually within two hours.
Patients discuss their condition with their doctor, and are offered an appointment with their GP at the surgery if necessary, usually on the same day.
NHS Lothian said the system is aimed at improving access to GPs for patients and increasing flexibility and said it was not designed to cut costs or appointment numbers.
The health board said that following a two-month trial both patients and GPs have backed the initiative, with the Rose Garden Medical Centre in Leith also set to adopt the system and other practices in the region expressing interest.
Dr Jon Turvill, a GP at Harbours Medical Practice, said: “The system allows patients to leave their name and number with the practice and a GP will phone them, with the aim of responding to calls within one to two hours.
“Following this telephone consultation, the GP will decide in agreement with the patient what needs to be done.
“The feedback from the trial has been very positive, with the majority of patients saying the new system is as good or better than the original system.
“I would stress that it is not about stopping face-to-face contact, as there will always be matters that a patient needs to discuss with their GP in person.”
Dr Peter Cairns, a GP at Wester Hailes Medical Practice, said he had found that the system had transformed access to GPs for patients and that 90 per cent of those who needed to see a doctor face-to-face had been given an appointment on the same day that they called.
Both Harbours Medical Practice and Wester Hailes Medical Practice have said that they plan to continue using the system following the trial.
Patients will still have the option of booking an appointment in the traditional way if they wish.
However, Margaret Watt, chairwoman of the Scotland Patients Association, said she had concerns that some patients could be misdiagnosed and called for the new system to be monitored closely.
She added: “From experience, I know that this may not be foolproof at all times. There’s no substitute for being face-to-face with a doctor.
“There are many illnesses that can mask other illnesses, and I think there might be problems with this. We have got to press ahead with technology but we mustn’t forget that patients are vulnerable. Patients might think it’s one thing and not tell the doctor the most important thing that’s wrong with them.”