FRESH criticism has been levelled at the lack of GPs in Lothian as patients at one surgery reported six appointments cancelled in a matter of weeks and test results being mixed up.
The absence of a permanent GP has left locals waiting weeks for appointments at the Ratho Surgery or being forced to travel to Wester Hailes for treatment when the locum doctors are away, according to residents.
It comes amid a “GP recruitment crisis”, said BMA Scotland, which conducted a recent survey that found a fifth of practices had a least one GP vacancy.
Unmanageable workloads are the key cause of the failure to recruit, said Dr Andrew Buist, deputy chair of the BMA’s Scottish GP committee, as fewer doctors are choosing to train as GPs and senior practitioners are often retiring early or working abroad to achieve a better work-life balance.
Ratho resident Lisa Jones, 31, described the situation at the struggling surgery as “awful” since the permanent doctor retired in 2013.
She said: “It is a huge issue in this village. I’ve had at least six cancellations in recent weeks, as have my parents and friends. Sometimes there is only a doctor there for two hours in the morning and you have to wait weeks for an appointment.
“My partner has twice been seen by the practice as the wrong patient, where they have mixed up the surnames.
“It was ridiculous. He came back with a pot to give a urine sample, and it had someone else’s name on it.”
Plans are in the pipeline for a purpose-built medical centre in Wilkieston Road, Ratho, as the existing surgery in Baird Road has been deemed too small to meet the demands of area’s growing population.
The current rolls include 2200 patients, while the average list size for Capital surgeries is 7000.
Ms Jones, who runs a market stall, added: “What’s the point in a new surgery if they won’t take doctors on?”
More than 550 people signed a petition in November calling for the city council to put pressure on the NHS to expand services in the area.
Their concerns were echoed by community leaders, who called for better consistency for patients.
Judy Wightman, of Ratho and District Community Council, said: “People don’t want to have to go backwards and forwards between different practices or to be shunted between doctors who don’t know them.”
Dr Miles Mack, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) Scotland, said the pressure was making it harder to recruit new doctors.
He said: “It is sad that this problem has spread as far as Edinburgh. The pressure is becoming intolerable so as well as cuts to GP funding, we are finding it increasingly hard to retain and recruit into the profession.
“The answers are not straightforward but we clearly need more funding. We are proposing that pharmacists be brought in to help and practice nurses be given more training so they can treat patients.”
Dr Ian McKay, clinical director for Edinburgh Community Health Partnership, insisted medical care would always be provided in Ratho for anyone who requires it urgently.
He said: “NHS Lothian has been working closely with the practice over recent months to help it deliver a stable service. We recognise the anxiety, uncertainty and insecurity that any disruption to service causes for patients and we are working hard to ensure that the community has access to consistent primary care cover.”
The surgery currently has a mixture of GP and locum cover, as well as a telephone consultation service where patients can be seen by the practice in Wester Hailes.
By Sarah Boyack, Labour health spokeswoman
“GPs are the first port of call for health concerns and people will rightly be worried at the struggle to get appointments.
“Unfortunately the concerns raised in Ratho are also being seen across the region.
“With long waiting lists and changes to out-of-hours services, it’s little wonder that patients are resorting to attending accident and emergency departments to be seen more quickly.
“However, that simply shifts the pressure and removes resources from genuine emergencies.
“This time last year NHS Lothian told elected representatives that GP services were a major concern.
“With recent interventions from professional bodies, the Scottish Government must now sit up and take notice of the mounting crisis in primary care.”