My parents try not to trouble their doctor, but like all elderly people it’s important for them to know that a good GP is on hand to help with inevitable ailments which come with age.
They have been very happy with the service from Colinton Surgery for the 50 years they have lived in the area, so imagine the shock when a letter arrived from the practice manager telling them to find another GP because they did not live within its official boundary.
They’ve been in the same house for 18 years, but the surgery arbitrarily decided to toughen up on out-of-area patients and asked those living beyond the boundary to take their aches and pains elsewhere. It’s not just one or two people, but 750 who could potentially be without a GP.
Once they got over their incredulity and checked, they did indeed discover they were on the wrong side of the line. By three houses. The letter explains that time is being taken up by doctors driving to see elderly patients who live well out the area, and while boundaries have to fall somewhere, three doors seems unduly harsh for long-standing older customers.
The surgery blames recent housing developments which have had pushed up their patient list from 10,500 to nearly 12,000, but pre-emptive action has been taken because of the potential for more new arrivals within its area. And this is even though the biggest site, Redford Barracks, is still full of soldiers and the Ministry of Defence has taken it off the market.
Earlier this month the Evening News revealed that five practices in South-East Edinburgh had closed their lists and only four out of 13 practices in the area were still open for registration.
In response, NHS Lothian’s director of primary care Jenny Long denied there were so many closures and insisted only two out of 119 Lothian practices were closed. With a surgery not only closed off but actively trying to eject patients without notice, I wonder if NHS Lothian fully understands the gravity of the situation.
Ms Long said each surgery was “responsible for managing requests from patients who wish to register with them”, but surely they must also have a duty of care to those people already on their books?
My folks have been given no advice, no list of alternatives and no indication if neighbouring surgeries can take on that number of new patients, just an instruction to take the letter to the new practice, wherever it may be, as if waving it about like Neville Chamberlain will solve the problem. And what happens if all the alternatives are full?
On one hand it’s commendable the practice wishes to preserve the service for patients within its boundaries it has an obligation to see, but such a unilateral move exposes the depth of the GP shortage which the Scottish Government seems powerless to address, and to which it has contributed by slashing the number of places in Scotland’s medical schools.
Immediately, NHS Lothian should ensure that none of those affected are left without a doctor, but SNP health secretary Humza Yousaf should be showing more leadership by explaining how this dire nationwide situation his government exacerbated can be sustainably resolved.