Edinburgh GP crisis: Warning of 'rammed' GP practices leaving patients struggling to access doctor

An Edinburgh MP has warned of “rammed” GP services making it harder for patients to access a doctor – with closed or restricted lists in several areas of the Capital.
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Ian Murray has warned of worsening problems in primary health care particularly in the south east and other areas with new housing developments and says he regularly gets calls from frustrated patients who struggle to access a local practice.

Chiefs at the city’s health and social care partnership also said they are ‘very concerned’ that in some parts of the city people can’t easily register with a GP.

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NHS Lothian claims there’s only two practices in Lothian that have formally closed registration to new patients – but the Evening News has verified at least five, and that’s only in the south east.

Ian Murray MP has warned about rammed' Edinburgh GP services (Getty/John Devlin)Ian Murray MP has warned about rammed' Edinburgh GP services (Getty/John Devlin)
Ian Murray MP has warned about rammed' Edinburgh GP services (Getty/John Devlin)

Of 13 practices in the south east, which has a population of around 20,000, there are four GP practices open for registration. Five have closed and four are operating with severely restricted lists.

Ferniehill, Inch Park, Gracemount and Liberton are the only practices that serve the south of the city where thousands of new homes are being built and they are all closed to new registrations.

Gracemount has informed patients on its website that it’s running at only half capacity, due to GP and staff shortages.

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Labour MP Mr Murray says GPs in the area are so “rammed” they are taking measures to reduce appointments such as making patients only able to call and book at certain slots each week, with many reports of people not able to get appointments when they need them.

Calls for urgent action to tackle GP crisisCalls for urgent action to tackle GP crisis
Calls for urgent action to tackle GP crisis

He says people go to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary instead which is just ‘round the corner’ and it’s putting pressure on A&E, storing up health problems for the future. Mr Murray has also accused the Scottish Government of burying their head in the sand over the issue.

As the NHS approaches what ministers have already warned will be a challenging winter, health secretary Humza Yousaf urged people to “consider whether their condition is an emergency” before heading to A&E.

Fears have also been raised about other areas of the city. In the north of the city Leith Mount is only registering new babies or those who are moving in with relatives already registered.

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In Gorgie, Springwell medical practice has capped the number of new patients at 25 a week citing pressures created by the number of new housing developments.

Sources at the practice told the paper they had struggled for years due to demand from mainly student housing developments in the area.

They claimed this creates a ‘vicious cycle’ when patients move from the area and struggle to register with a new practice so often remain registered with their previous one.

Mr Murray said the problems in the south east have got worse in the past two years and he’s seen similar issues city-wide, but claims not enough is being done.

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He said: “GPs work their fingers to the bone but there just isn’t enough infrastructure to serve the thousands of new homes being built. Chronic underfunding also means that even when people do get registered at a practice it is extremely difficult to get an appointment.

"NHS Lothian have been warning about these pressures for a decade and raised this again with the Scottish Government 2 years ago, warning there was a risk of patients being failed in three areas of Edinburgh if additional resources were not provided. The Government doesn't seem interested and nothing has been done.

"The system will collapse if action isn’t taken to relieve the pressure. The Health Secretary should get his head out of the sand and sort this out before these services fail. ”

More than 2,000 have signed a petition as part of a campaign led by Mr Murray, who has in recent months demanded more support from the Government for stretched health services across the Capital.

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A spokesperson for the Edinburgh Health and Social Care Partnership said Edinburgh’s growing population has been a challenge for many years but that 85,000 extra people have been added to GP lists since 2012.

They said: “Medical practice teams have been innovative in their plans to accommodate extra patients and nine new builds in that time have helped meet this demand.

"Several more are currently being planned over the next decade with an extra 70,000 people expected to live in Scotland’s Capital by the end of the decade.

"One of the issues we face is there is no funding directly aligned to increased primary care premises due to an expanding population.

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“We are very concerned that in some parts of the city people cannot easily register with a GP and we are exploring all options to ensure access and to provide potential solutions to the pressures, including new models of delivery, additional capital investment to develop new practices for the future and expanding multi-disciplinary teams to support practices in delivery of GP services.”

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Jenny Long, director of primary care for NHS Lothian, said: “Every GP practice has a defined practice area and, as independent contractors, they are responsible for managing requests from patients who wish to register with them, including ensuring that their practice list size remains safe and manageable for both patients and staff.

“There are two practices out of the 119 across Lothian which have temporarily closed their registration lists to new patients due to exceptionally high increased demand, and we continue to monitor the situation and work with the practices.”

Anyone unable to find a GP practice in their area can contact the NHS Lothian primary care enquiry inbox [email protected] for advice and

potentially assignment to a practice, she said.

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The Scottish Government said there are now a record number of GPs working in Scotland.

A spokesperson said: “We have increased the Primary Care Improvement Fund to recruit multi-disciplinary teams from £155m in 2021-22 to £170m in 2022-23 with 3,220 healthcare professionals recruited to support practices.

“NHS Lothian monitor the availability of practices in their area and provide advice on registering and being assigned to a practice.”