RESIDENTS are facing a postcode lottery over access to family doctors as it was revealed nearly a fifth of Lothian GP practices have been forced to restrict their patient lists.
Lothian’s deepening GP crisis was laid bare as figures released through freedom of information legislation showed that 25 practices have stopped accepting new patients or reduced the number they can accept over struggles to fill GP vacancies.
GP leaders called for “urgent action” to address the lack of funding for family doctors.
NHS Lothian has had to step in to stabilise six practices, three surgeries have been dissolved entirely and ten have asked NHS Lothian for help.
More than 2000 patients from Leith Links Medical Practice were forced to move in April after the surgery failed to recruit enough doctors to cope with the caseload. Practices such as Colinton Surgery and Whinpark Medical Centre were operating with restricted lists as far back as January 2014.
Dr Miles Mack, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners Scotland, said: “I am very concerned to see Lothian’s GP coverage deteriorate further with almost one in five practices now being forced to restrict their acceptance of new patients. This is far from how GPs wish to serve the public and is a direct consequence of the lack of funding and attention given to general practice over the last decade.
“I hear constantly of patients having difficulty seeing their family doctors, of GPs struggling under the weight of their workload and of colleagues leaving the profession because it is simply unsustainable.”
Dr Mack, a practising GP, called for greater resources for general practice to assure the service remains sustainable.
He added: “It is high time words became urgent action.”
The situation is creating a “postcode lottery” for residents, warned Miles Briggs, Scottish Conservative MSP candidate for Edinburgh Southern, who submitted the FOI request.
He said: “We know that there is already a significant number of full-time GP vacancies in surgeries in NHS Lothian, a situation which is clearly impacting on the ability of surgeries to take on additional patients. Many families are finding it increasingly difficult to register with their local surgeries with 25 out of NHS Lothian’s 127 surgeries operating restricted patient lists.”
Professor Alex McMahon, director of strategic planning, performance reporting and information at NHS Lothian, said: “GP Practices in NHS Lothian are working hard to maintain access for patients but many are unfortunately facing difficulties in recruiting GPs – an issue being faced by surgeries across the country. The decision to introduce temporary restrictions is never taken lightly but allows practices to cope with pressures and ensure their service remains both safe and effective.”