East Lothian GPs: 'Damning' review into Riverside Medical Practice reveals patients unable to book appointment

MSPs have urged a beleaguered East Lothian medical practice to change its appointment system, after a damning review has revealed the ‘stark reality’ of problems patients face.

Riverside Medical Practice in Musselburgh.
Riverside Medical Practice in Musselburgh.

Riverside, the largest practice in East Lothian, has been plagued with reports that patients haven’t been able to book an appointment – or even get through to the practice on the phone.

Following more than 300 complaints submitted to local MSPs, an independent review was commissioned in April this year and the team published their final report on Friday (September 23).

The vast majority of complaints were about problems accessing an appointment to see a GP.

Patients reported long waits on the phone, no appointments available and having to call back for days and weeks before getting an appointment or in some cases giving up and going to A&E.

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It took more than an hour for calls to be answered between January and March and up to 48 minutes on average between March and June.

Some said they had given up on trying to contact a GP even if they felt unwell, while one said they had been disciplined for making calls to get through to make an appointment while at work.

One said: “I am at my wits’ end with the level of care being provided by the surgery as someone who has two young children.

“I feel worried about the challenges of getting through on the phone and whether I will be able to speak with someone about the care I need for them”.

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Another said: “I have concerns over the welfare of my grandparents. Their doctor’s surgery is, quite frankly, unreachable. We have been unable to make an appointment in months (no exaggeration).

“Both of my grandparents are high risk. Granddad has cancer and my Gran is recovering from cancer”.

When compared with more than 20 other practices of similar size, the review found Riverside had the worst rating by patients on accessing appointments with just seven per cent recording a positive experience – far below the Sottish average at 75 per cent.

Among 17 recommendations set out in the report are to urgently review the telephone system, introduce an on-line appointment system for routine appointments, pre-booked appointments and review the complaint handling process.

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It’s acknowledged that there have been challenges in Musselburgh General Practices for some time and that taking over Eskbridge Practice in January 2018 contributed to the difficulties, as patient numbers doubled to 19,500.

The review states there were ‘no apparent gaps in staffing’ and concluded the most pressing need was to improve access to appointments.

Many patients praised the care and professionalism of doctors once they were able to speak to them or get an appointment.

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Sarah Boyack MSP said the report was a ‘wake-up call’. She said: “The report shows the stark reality that many patients have been experiencing for years.

“The findings of this report are a wake-up call which must be addressed. The recommendations of the Review Team must be implemented in full and as soon as possible.

“Introducing pre-booked appointments, delivering efficient and effective systems and enabling people to register complaints will make a huge difference in people’s lives in the area.

“Access to their GP is vital – we cannot allow it to be postcode lottery.

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“The population increase in Musselburgh has put pressures on GP services and that needs to be addressed as the area continues to grow.

“So I want to see action by the RMP, the HSCP and NHS Lothian to ensure lessons are learned and patients are listened to in the future.”

Colin Beattie MSP urged bosses at the practice, one of the biggest in Scotland, to implement 17 recommendations and stressed it would be ‘unfair to delay improvements’.

MSP for Musselburgh, Colin Beattie urged Riverside, the East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership and NHS Lothian to take on board all 17 recommendations set out in the report.

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He said: “The issues regarding access to healthcare at Riverside have gone on for too long and it would now be unfair to delay any improvements the patients have long-awaited for.

“I will continue to support my constituents and ensure improvements are made at the Practice.

“I have subsequently set up a meeting with the Review Team and will meet again with the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, Humza Yousaf to ensure these recommendations are carried out in a timely manner.”