ALMOST four out of ten people in Edinburgh have had trouble getting an appointment with their GP in the past year, an Evening News survey has found.
And nearly three out of ten have struggled to get an appointment at hospital or with a specialist in the past year.
The findings reflect the current GP crisis in Lothian which has seen more than 40 per cent of practices in the area imposing restrictions on patient access – a rise of 17 per cent in the last year.
Five GP practices have also closed in Lothian over the last three years.
Dr Drummond Begg, a GP at Penicuik medical practice and chairman of the BMA’s Lothian local medical committee, said it was recognised that getting a GP appointment could be difficult. He said: “There are issues of too little supply of doctors and too much demand. That’s really the basic equation.”
GPs are about to vote on a proposed new contract which would give them minimum pay of £80,000 a year and mean some duties currently performed by GPs were carried out by other health professionals. .
Dr Begg said: “The GP has been the hub of all healthcare and the first point of access. We might be looking for people with different skills to deal with certain problems.”
He said optometrists, physiotherapists or podiatrists may be more relevant for some patients coming to a surgery.
Health Secretary Shona Robison has also announced plans to recruit an extra 800 GPs over the next decade to secure a “sustainable service for the future”.
Margaret Watt, chairwoman of the Scottish Patients Association, said people sometimes rang her saying they could not get a GP appointment for four weeks.
She said: “You’re not going to be sick in four weeks, you are sick when you call.
“And if you can’t be seen, you could be worse by the time you do get an appointment than you were when you phoned in the first place.
“It’s not the GPs’ fault. They are under a lot of strain to accommodate everyone and it’s so overwhelming there’s not a lot they can do.
“But the government can do a lot better and it’s high time they looked at it and realised there is a big problem.”
The survey – answered by more than 2300 people either online or by completing a questionnaire in the paper – found 52.9 per cent rated healthcare in Edinburgh good or very good, while 16.7 per cent said it was poor or very poor.
But Conservative health spokesman and Lothian MSP Miles Briggs said he was not surprised by the survey findings on the problem of getting doctor and hospital appointments.
He said: “This reflects what I hear from my constituents on a regular basis and it is not acceptable that so many Lothian residents are not getting seen when they need to. GP practices are under greater demand as the population in Lothian continues to grow, but the SNP are failing to deal with this increase in demand.”
Edinburgh Southern Labour MSP Daniel Johnson said: “Too many people have to wait too long to get the help they need from the NHS, whether that is a first appointment with a GP, or a crucial operation.
“It shows a health service under pressure, hampered by the SNP’s failure to recruit the right people at the right time. These survey results confirm our NHS needs more resources, more doctors, and more nurses, and the SNP need to get on and make that happen.”
Edinburgh Western MSP and Lib Dem health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “It’s unsurprising that citizens in the Capital rate the quality of service from GPs and hospitals, but this is tempered by the reality that it is becoming harder and harder to get an appointment.
“This is caused by GP retirements, the failure to fill vacancies, increasing patient rolls as a result of housing developments, and a lack of proper planning by the Scottish Government which means we have too few healthcare professionals to serve the city.”
Edinburgh Eastern SNP MSP Ash Denham, deputy convener of Holyrood’s health committee, said while there were challenges in meeting waiting time targets in Edinburgh and elsewhere in Scotland, the Scottish Government was taking measures to ensure waiting times came down and GP appointments were accessible.
“Not least of this was the Health Secretary’s commitment of an extra £50 million to health boards since the spring for the purpose of lowering waiting times. The creation of a new elective treatment centre in Lothian, one of six across Scotland, will also make a big difference.
“Additionally, the Scottish Government has committed to improving general practice, with an extra £500m to be invested in Scotland’s GPs by the end of this parliament, and funding for GP recruitment and retention has increased fivefold to £5m. Scotland already has the highest number of GPs per head of population in the UK.
“I am confident these measures will help reduce the number of issues with getting a GP or hospital appointment in Edinburgh.”
Dr Tracey Gillies, medical director at NHS Lothian, said: “We are pleased so many patients living in Lothian rate their care positively and say the care they received was good or very good.
“We are working really hard to make sure patients from across Lothian receive timely, safe and effective care in the most appropriate setting.
“We know that like all GP practices across the country, those in Lothian are facing considerable challenges in recruiting new doctors. We are working to try and alleviate pressures. In general, emergency appointments will be available each day and patients should be able to see a GP within 48 hours.
“If patients want to see a specific GP, they may have to wait longer until that individual has an available appointment.”