East Lothian GPs: Calls for Riverside medical practice to fix problems patients face getting appointments

‘No excuses’ for the lack of change at the beleaguered Musselburgh practice
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An MSP has warned that the crisis continues for patients struggling to get appointments at Riverside and said there are ‘no excuses’ for the lack of change since a damning review was published.

Colin Beattie said he’d seen no improvements to the phone system for patients trying to access appointments at the beleaguered practice despite an independent review published in September which set out changes that should take place. The MSP has held crisis talks with the health secretary to address the situation many patients face at Riverside Medical Practice and is now warning of a ‘credibility gap’ as constituents report the same problems with little to no ‘tangible’ improvement.

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It comes days after the Evening News reported that a 65-year-old woman who had been sick for a month with bronchitis said she had given up on trying to get an appointment when she had failed to get through after calling more than 120 times. A review published in September revealed patients reported significant waits on the phone, no appointments available and having to call back for days and weeks before getting an appointment or in some cases giving up and going to A&E.

Riverside medical practice in EdinburghRiverside medical practice in Edinburgh
Riverside medical practice in Edinburgh

The independent review team made 17 recommendations to improve patient access including providing alternatives to the emergency only option of booking appointments by phone at 8am. In response the practice said they will consider how to implement changes and has published the first monthly report on progress.

‘Something has clearly gone very wrong here’

Colin Beattie, said he’s still getting inundated with calls from locals about the practice. He told the Evening News: “It’s disappointing that there has been no change in terms of patients experience. I receive more calls about this problem in one week than I do in a year for all the other practices in the area put together. I realise some of the recommendations will take some time to put in place. But at this stage there’s a serious credibility gap between the surgery and the public. Many other surgeries operate with similar numbers of patients yet something has clearly gone very wrong here. We are long past being diplomatic now. I just want to see it fixed as soon as possible.”

He added: “No excuses or delays are acceptable. We must see demonstrable progress.. There should also be full transparency. I don't see why it’s a problem for a doctors surgery to publish their balance sheets and show what public money has been spent on. Surely there’s no reason for them to conceal that. There has been investment from the public purse in the practice though they operate as a private business. I am not going to give up. I hope things will be made right soon and continue to push for something tangible so that patients can say, access to medical care at Riverside is getting better.”

Colin Beattie MSPColin Beattie MSP
Colin Beattie MSP
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In their first update on October 31, staff at the surgery acknowledged capacity at the practice is not meeting demand and welcomed recommendations, stating that change would take time. It read: “Improvements are likely to be smaller in scale and have a cumulative effect, rather than providing a complete and immediate solution to the mismatch between demand and capacity at the Practice.”

The top recommendation was to review the phone system, which was upgraded prior to the Covid pandemic. It’s claimed that they have had discussions with an alternative provider but it’s understood talks are yet to take place with NHS Lothian regarding costs for this to go ahead. On two of the other top recommendations, which included making it easier for patients to get pre-booked appointments, the surgery has said these areas were ‘reviewed and assessed as meeting need’.

‘We know patients are eager to see improvements’

Dr Fairclough, spokesperson for Riverside said they are making ‘steady progress’ on the recommendations. He said: "We know patients are eager to see improvements. The independent report stated that the practice has a comparable number of clinicians to other GP surgeries, and is providing a comparable (and potentially higher) number of appointments. It is evident therefore that the Practice is using the resources available to it in an appropriate way.

“When the report was published on 23 September we welcomed the recommendations made in it and committed to exploring and considering each one as soon as possible, alongside the East Lothian Health & Social Care Partnership and NHS Lothian who have lead or joint responsibility for a number of them. We must also recognise that some of the recommendations are more complex than they appear on the surface, and that this quality improvement activity needs to sit alongside the business-as-usual work of running a busy general practice and maintaining clinical care.

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"Our job as experienced healthcare professionals is to implement the recommendations in a way which prioritises the care and safety of our patients, in a way which is sustainable for our team. We look forward to discussing our progress with the review team three and six months after publication of their report, as agreed in the review’s scope, and are sure they will also update stakeholders on their thoughts in due course."