NHS bosses have warned that half of all city GP practices could soon be turning away new patients as a lack of family doctors heaps pressure on struggling practices.
National GP shortages have begun to bite in Lothian, as new figures show nearly a third of the region’s 124 practices – and more than 40 per cent in Edinburgh alone – have been forced to restrict their patient lists to cope with demand.
The situation has deteriorated rapidly since last year when only a fifth of Lothian surgeries had closed to new patients.
MSPs were told by NHS Lothian bosses during a top-level briefing on Friday that half of all surgeries in Edinburgh could soon be forced to intervene.
It comes weeks after thousands of patients at Southside Surgery, in Newington, were told they may have to move to other practices after repeated failures to recruit new GPs.
Labour MSP Daniel Johnson, who obtained the figures, blamed a “vicious cycle” of high workloads for making the profession less attractive to new doctors.
He said: “There is a crisis in access to GP surgeries in Edinburgh and the Lothians. Already in some areas, like south Edinburgh, half of surgeries are not taking on new patients.
“The warning from senior figures in the NHS, following a summit I held, is that half of all surgeries across the Lothians could become restricted to new patients. This is a major concern for local residents.”
Hotspots include Leith and the north-east of the city, where limits are imposed on eight out of 11 practices, and parts of Midlothian such as Bonnyrigg, where all three surgeries are restricted.
East Lothian is the only area without any restrictions.
Campaigners warned that move could leave patients facing long waits for appointments.
Dr Jean Turner, patron of the Scotland Patients Association, said: “I can understand why the doctors are having difficulties as there are so many patients with complex needs and they want to deliver the same standard of care.
“We simply don’t have enough doctors. It will all come back to patients, who may have difficulty finding a GP.
“It’s a very serious situation we are in and it makes me worried about the future.”
Professor Alex McMahon, director of strategic planning at NHS Lothian, said: “GP practices across Lothian are working hard to maintain access for patients but many are unfortunately facing difficulties in the recruitment of GPs – an issue being faced by surgeries across the country.
“The decision to restrict the number of new patients who can register at a practice is never taken lightly.
“However, this temporary measure does allow practices to cope with pressures and ensure they can continue to provide a safe and effective service.
“NHS Lothian and the four Health and Social Care Partnerships are working closely with local GPs to provide advice and support and to ensure all patients are allocated to a GP practice.”