PATIENTS at a Lothian GP surgery will have to go through NHS 24 before getting an appointment with a doctor under radical new plans.
A practice in East Lothian has been chosen for a pilot scheme which sees receptionists pass on patient details to the telephone service, who will have the final say on whether they can see a doctor that day.
The four-month trial at the Riverside Practice in Musselburgh will start next week and could be rolled out across NHS Lothian if successful.
Under the project, a receptionist will decide if the patient can have a same-day appointment with a doctor or will pass their details onto the NHS 24 “In-Hours GP Triage” programme where call handlers with clinician input will ring the person back to get further information.
The patient could then be given a doctor’s appointment or be directed to their community pharmacist and where appropriate. Others will be signposted to self-help information available online.
NHS 24 has been given the target of calling patients back before 1.30pm each day for those who have called their GP in the morning. In the New Year, the service will expand to offer appointments to Riverside Practice patients with a range of clinical staff including nurse practitioners and physiotherapists in the Musselburgh Primary Access Service.
Dr Richard Fairclough, partner, Riverside Practice, said: “We welcome the opportunity to work with NHS 24 to trial the patient callback service, as it will provide us with the opportunity to have more face-to-face time with our patients. This will help to ease pressure on appointments and benefit service to all of our patients.
“We are encouraging our patients to support this new way of working. The initial call handling by our staff will ensure we correctly identify those calls that NHS 24 are best placed to deal with.”
As well as telephone triage, the GP Triage Service will include redirecting patients to a range of digital options including NHS inform’s healthcare information, webchat service and Self Help Guides. The GP Triage service is one of a number of projects being developed as part of NHS 24’s Organisational Improvement Programme.
Dr Laura Ryan, medical director, NHS 24, said: “The GP Triage project has already had one highly successful trial with a practice in Forth Valley and as part of our overarching Organisational Improvement Programme, we are actively seeking ways we can support a healthier Scotland by connecting people to health and care advice, information and support 24/7”.
However, Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs MSP was quick to express his concerns that vulnerable patients could suffer.
He said: “We all know the huge pressure that our GP surgeries are under due to the SNP’s mismanagement of NHS Scotland and its workforce planning over the last 10 years.
“GP services across Lothian are under huge pressure and struggling to cope with increasing demand in practices, as well as finding it hard to recruit permanent GPs.
“Continuity of care is important and is what family GPs want to be able to deliver. It is vital we do not see this being eroded. Vulnerable patients in particular will want to be reassured that this will not detract from the level of GP care that they receive.”