Crisis squad drafted in to save toiling GP surgery

The Links Medical Centre. Picture: Toby Williams
The Links Medical Centre. Picture: Toby Williams
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A CRISIS team is set to be parachuted into an under-pressure GP surgery after it was forced to axe 2000 patients.

The management of Leith Links Medical Centre is expected to be taken over by NHS Lothian next month, after the Hermitage Place surgery failed to replace three doctors, despite several rounds of advertising.

Practices are traditionally owned and run by GP partners but health boards can intervene if asked to by doctors, or in an emergency to ensure patients have access to care.

NHS Lothian would take on the GPs as paid employees and take control of administration and management.

The move was welcomed by former health secretary Malcolm Chisholm, who said the situation revealed a clear problem in the GP workforce.

The Edinburgh Northern and Leith MSP said: “This is the right thing for the health board to do when a GP practice can’t cope, but it is reflecting a wider problem about GP recruitment and retention. It is a major, major problem in the health service which needs to be dealt with.”

Bangholm, Kirkliston and Ratho medical practices are 
already run by NHS Lothian and more than 20 per cent of the 127 practices in Lothian are already operating with restrictions to their patient lists.

Dr Carey Lunan, of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: “When a practice has a reduced workforce, the remaining doctors primarily want to ensure continued high levels of quality care for all the practice’s patients and the responsibility for that extra workload falls to those remaining GPs.

“If that workload simply becomes unsustainable then ultimately practices are having to seek support from their local health boards.”

Dr Lunan, who works as a GP in Leith, said: “We know that continuity is particularly important for patients who have more complex health needs and is undoubtedly the best way to offer high-quality and efficient care for patients, and for the NHS as a whole.

“Workforce issues can also impact on the ability of practices to offer routine appointments within a reasonable timescale, and to be able to offer longer appointments to those who need it. GPs are very concerned about all of these things. We want to be able to offer 
patient-centred, high-quality and accessible care.”

The news came as a major survey of family doctors by Labour health spokesman Dr Richard Simpson revealed a “looming crisis” in the GP workforce.

His findings showed that there were seven full-time GP vacancies among the 46 surgeries in Lothian that responded, and 16 sessional GP vacancies.

David White, assistant general manager at Edinburgh Community Health Partnership, said: “We are currently talking to Links Medical Practice about whether [it] might be best supported under direct NHS management. These talks have not yet been concluded.

“If there are any changes to existing arrangements the practice will guide how this decision will be made known to patients.”