Daniel Johnson: GP shortage is harming our health

Daniel Johnson MSPDaniel Johnson MSP
Daniel Johnson MSP
The NHS is under pressure. Through the festive period, brilliant NHS staff have worked harder than ever through the challenges of a rapid rise in flu cases, a cold winter leading to more slips and falls, and the inevitable spike in all sorts of maladies at this time of the year.

Despite all that hard work, the system is in crisis. Waiting lists for A&E have soared and over the week of Christmas, one in three patients at Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary waited more than the four-hour target. According to the Scottish Government, that should be just one in 20.

There have been exceptional pressures on Scotland’s NHS, but the problems have not arisen just because of the holidays. There has been a steady increase in waiting times since the beginning of November.

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However, the crisis is not confined to our emergency services. Primary care services are also struggling.

I am regularly contacted by constituents concerned about long waits for GP appointments. Worse still, for people moving to the Lothians, many are being confronted with a closed door. Never mind an appointment, it is difficult enough to find a place at many practices.

Indeed, information I have gathered through a Freedom of Information request has found that almost half of the Lothians’ practices are running ‘restricted’ lists – allowing few or no new patients register.

For those moving house or new to the area that can present a huge problem. In my constituency of Edinburgh Southern, more than half of practices are restricted. That presents a real problem for local residents.

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Time and time again I’ve been contacted by constituents who tell me about the struggle to make an appointment with their GP or from those people who have moved to south Edinburgh only to find that it is an uphill struggle to register with a GP, if they can register at all.

Since I was elected, I have continued to campaign on this issue. In Parliament, I have raised the issue of restricted practices and closures with the First Minister and secured a meeting between local GPs and the Cabinet Secretary for Health. I have held public meetings with concerned local residents.

If people are not registered with their local GP, the impacts will be felt further down the system. People will present at hospital when they perhaps should have seen a GP or nurse at their local practice when the situation was less severe. Preventative medicine cannot work if people are prevented from seeking early treatment. Problems at A&E perhaps deservedly captures the lion’s share of the attention. Emotive stories of people in a hospital corridor waiting to be seen might make for good headlines, but it isn’t the only area of our NHS which needs further investment and support.

Indeed, if primary care isn’t supported, problems at A&E will only get worse in the long run.

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The Scottish Government have offered welcome apologies to patients. The next step is solutions to the very serious problems in our NHS.

Daniel Johnson, Scottish Labour Party msp for Edinburgh Southern.