HEALTH bosses have been parachuted in to take over a fifth GP surgery in Lothian amid concerns of a deepening crisis among family doctors.
Repeated attempts to recruit GPs at Eskbridge Medical Practice, in Musselburgh, have failed after a senior doctor retired last year.
Bosses at the integrated health board were forced to step in to manage the practice in December, which has close to 9000 patients on its books.
The move comes after NHS Lothian was forced to take charge of struggling surgeries at Bangholm, Kirkliston, Leith Links and Ratho last year, although Bangholm has now returned to independent practice.
GP practices are run by family doctors but NHS bosses can intervene in exceptional circumstances to take control of management and administration.
Dr Jean Turner, patron of the Scotland Patients Association and a former GP, said: “I think people are realising rather too late in the day that general practice is the jewel in the crown of the NHS and it needs to be protected.”
Angry residents reported waits of up to three weeks for an appointment at Eskbridge before the board took over.
Betty Ramsden, vice-chair of Musselburgh and Inveresk Community Council, said: “It has been really dreadful for residents.
“But they suddenly dropped the news on us that this was happening without any notice.”
Attempts to ease the strain by cutting the drop-in service, and a new booking system whereby the GP phones the patient back have both proved unpopular.
Mrs Ramsden said: “I think they were trying to stop people coming along unnecessarily.
“But how can a doctor do a proper diagnosis on the phone? I think our health is going to suffer.”
Lothian has suffered as part of a nationwide recruitment crisis, which has forced one in four of Lothian’s 127 GP surgeries to turn away new patients so they can cope with their heavy caseload.
A survey by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) Scotland this week found that nine out of 10 Scottish doctors were concerned that lack of resources was putting patient care at risk.
Chairman Dr Miles Mack warned of a “wholesale departure” of family doctors from the system caused by the current conditions.
Additional staff have been added to improve services at Eskbridge, including a pharmacist, an advanced nurse practitioner and regular locum cover.
David Small, director of the East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “Things are moving on apace at Eskbridge and our focus is on maintaining high quality healthcare for our patients.
“We can see that the measures we have put in place are already making a positive difference and we are committed to working with staff and patients to consolidate this and keep improving our service.”