In March of this year the Edinburgh Evening News published a report revealing the unacceptable length of time some patients in Lothian are having to wait for a GP appointment. Following the report, subsequent information from NHS Lothian confirmed that shockingly one in six of its GP surgeries have declared themselves ‘open but full’ within the last year. The Evening News contacted some of the surgeries with the longest waiting times and a number of them stated that they were close to the point of not being able to accept new patients on their lists.
I subsequently wrote to Alex Neil MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Health, outlining my concerns in light of the report and highlighting that I have received correspondence from several constituents who are worried about the provision of the GP services. This is an issue that I and some of my other MSP colleagues raised at a briefing meeting with representatives of NHS Lothian. One of the suggestions put forward was that in order to cope with the needs of our growing population and provide access to quality primary care services, more or bigger GP services are required – urgently.
Yesterday I followed up the issue at Portfolio Questions with Michael Matheson MSP, Minister for Public Health, at the Scottish Government. The full exchange can be read here. I asked the Minister if urgent financial support could be made available to help NHS Lothian cope with the increasing demand on their services, highlighting that access to a GP is often crucial in early diagnosis of conditions and crucial for people’s health. I was disappointed in the response as I feel that the Minister dodged the question of providing urgent funding. Whilst he acknowledged that the Scottish Government have “increased funding” and the “resources that boards have been given are there to ensure that they plan effectively to meet their communities’ needs”, it is absolutely clear that urgent improvements and investment is needed in the Lothian region. A key issue which has been highlighted is the numbers of GPs being trained.
Two major reports are currently under way which aim to improve access to GP services and I shall be following developments closely. Once the reports have been published I strongly urge the Scottish Government to step up to the plate and act quickly. Last week the Cabinet Secretary for Health wrote to me and made it clear that although he accepted that there is a problem in Lothians but warned that it would be some time before funding is available. I do not think this is acceptable given the problems people are experiencing now. I look forward to discussing this pressing issue at a forthcoming briefing with NHS Lothian later this month.