Comment: Something is badly wrong on GP waits

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It is abundantly clear that many GP surgeries are struggling to provide the kind of service that patients quite rightly expect.

No-one should be surprised that family doctors are feeling the strain right now. With so many of us living longer, they are having to make more house calls to elderly patients, and the fast growing population in the Lothians means they have growing lists of patients on their books. The results of those pressures are laid bare by our investigation today.

It is obvious that something is badly wrong when a cancer patient is told to wait four weeks to get a pre-booked appointment with their GP.

Yes, surgeries offer emergency drop-in sessions and GPs will phone some patients to discuss their issues before deciding whether an appointment is really necessary. That allows them to meet their obligation to see or speak to a patient within 48 hours. And that will be perfectly adequate for a lot of people.

For many others, though, it is extremely frustrating – and potentially dangerous – not to be able to book an appointment for weeks on end. That can be a powerful disincentive to seeing a doctor.

It is easy to say when your health is at risk you should be ready to drop everything and wait all morning in the doctor’s waiting room.

But the reality is that that is very difficult for many people – perhaps they do not have an understanding boss, or have other demands on their time as, say, a carer – and they may wrongly think that their hacking cough or changing mole is really nothing to worry about. Many just won’t bother.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Government is spending hundreds of thousands of pounds encouraging people to see a doctor, in an effort to catch the first tell-tale signs of some of Scotland’s biggest killer diseasess. It is time for action – and some joined-up thinking within our health service.