Callers to GP surgeries will be assessed by NHS 24

Callers to GP surgeries will be assessed by NHS 24
The Times, by Helen Puttick


Patients calling their own GP surgery in the daytime will be assessed first over the phone by the Scottish NHS 24 helpline under plans to deal with a doctor recruitment crisis.


A trial in which patients in two Scottish health boards seeking same-day GP appointments were initially appraised and prioritised over the phone by NHS 24 staff has already taken place.


A similar scheme is due to launch in Musselburgh, East Lothian, by the end of the summer to help to sustain GP services. Meetings have also taken place about setting the system up in Wishaw, Lanarkshire.


The new approach is being considered at a time when GP practices are struggling to recruit enough family doctors. Earlier this year The Times revealed that the equivalent of one GP practice a month is folding, with health boards having to step in to ensure that patients still have access to care.


Organisations such as the British Medical Association in Scotland have warned that soaring workloads are putting unsustainable pressure on GPs.


In a statement NHS 24 said: “NHS 24 is in discussion with a number of health boards to consider how its telephone triage service could be best used to support the established GP practices who have been experiencing challenges to continue to deliver high-quality services for their patients.


“Patients would select options when calling their GP surgery to ensure they receive the most appropriate care as soon as possible, and [this] may include appointments with a range of health professionals including GPs, nurses, physiotherapists, and community pharmacy. Where appropriate, patients will be given safe self-care advice.”


The statement added that NHS 24 had helped triage patients phoning for same-day appointments at practices in Forth Valley and Ayrshire during a recent trial.


It continued: “Patients were directed to the most appropriate outcome for them in a person-centred way.”


Dr Alan McDevitt, chairman of the BMA’s Scottish general practitioners committee, said that NHS 24 stepping in to handle daytime calls to GP surgeries was useful in emergencies but it was not seen as a long-term solution.


He added that NHS 24 “could not cope” with all calls to GP surgeries during the daytime across Scotland.


However, he said that there were discussions with NHS 24 about improving the “digital face” of GP surgeries, potentially including digital access to doctors.


Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ spokesman on health, said: “GPs are crying out for support and, in its absence, NHS 24 is having to help them out.


“This is just the latest symptom of the GP crisis that the SNP government has allowed to happen.”