Edinburgh GPs: New medical practice at Liberton High School put on hold by funding freeze
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Plans to build a new medical practice to serve up to 10,000 patients in south Edinburgh have been put on hold because of a funding freeze. The new GP premises were due to form part of the city council's new Liberton High School campus, where construction is due to start in April. Thousands of new homes in south Edinburgh mean there is growing demand for medical services and there have been calls for an increase in GP capacity for the past eight years.
Senior health official David White told the Edinburgh Integration Joint Board (EIJB), which oversees health and social care in the Capital, that the council had allocated the proposed practice an “ideal” site within the Liberton campus. But Mr White, strategic lead with the Edinburgh Health and Social Care Patnership (EHSCP), said: "NHS Lothian then informed us they were obliged to pause all capital commitments just as this strategic business case was due to go to the NHS Lothian capital investment group last week and the paper was consequently withdrawn from the meeting."
He said the new housing under construction and still being planned meant people were "flooding into the area" and extra GP capacity for 20,000 patients was required. He said: "We just desperately need the additional capacity to cope with that population. All the existing practices have already maxed out what they can take on, so we are reaching a situation where there's going to be a large number of people who simply can't access primary care in the city, which is a fairly dire situation to be in."
And he warned: "This is the first area this is happening and what is happening here will quickly be followed by north-east Edinburgh unless we are able to bring additional capacity to that area too. We have been pressing for additional capacity in this area for eight years."
He said the council might agree to build the shell of a practice which could be fitted out later or leave a space that could be developed in future, but added that withdrawing from the current project was unlikely to be a cost-free option. And he said pulling out at such a late stage was "less than ideal in terms of [the council's] willingness to go down this road with us in future schemes".
NHS Lothian and the EIJB approved plans in 2020 to create extra GP capacity in nearby Gilmerton to help cope with the growing population, but the Scottish Government has yet to give the go-ahead. Mr White said: “In the local area, we currently have five of the local practices closed to new registrations, which is quite an extreme position, and new registrations are being pinballed around a much larger area. That is not a sustainable position.”
EHSCP chief finance officer Moira Pringle said the Scottish Government had told health boards it could not progress any capital schemes for the next three years where work had not already started. But the Liberton project was below the £10m threshold for government funding, so the cost had to be picked up by NHS Lothian. But the NHS Lothian capital budget which it would be funded from was over-committed and NHS Lothian had said it was not considering any new business cases until it did its own internal prioritisation process.
EIJB chair, Edinburgh Labour councillor Tim Pogson said he was disappointed to hear the new practice had been paused and the board agreed he should write to both the Scottish Government and NHS Lothian underlining the urgent need for the new practice to provide additional GP capacity in the area. Green councillor Claire Miller said: “We have projects on track and we are effectively having to put them on ice because of other people’s decisions.”