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Out-of-hours row over GP cover on red-eye shifts

A row has broken out between a group of GPs and NHS managers in Scotland over plans for out-of-hours services.

The dispute in the Highland region centres on whether GPs or nurses and paramedics will cover night shifts at a local


A consultation document issued by NHS Highland stated that the hospital in Golspie, East Sutherland, would be a base for an out-of-hours service staffed by either a local GP or a doctor from Dingwall or Invergordon – both about 30 miles away.

But Dr Alex Dickson, a GP in Lairg, said managers told local doctors at a meeting that they had 'shelved' the plans for GP cover because they could not get a commitment from enough doctors to work regular shifts.

Dr Dickson said: 'We were told it was their ultimate aim to have all the out-of-hours run from Invergordon in Easter Ross, and that once they had recruited sufficient numbers of paramedics and nurses they would do away with doctor cover from Golspie and rely on nurses.'

Dr Mary Fortune, a GP in Brora and Helmsdale, said

local GPs were willing to carry on working shifts: 'The new contract is really welcome, but GPs are willing to take part and continue to provide an out-of-hours service that is more local for local people.'

A spokesman for NHS Highland said it had been difficult to secure commitments from GPs about out-of-hours shifts, but denied the board was doing away with doctor cover.

He added: 'What we have said is that ultimately there would be less medical input but I don't think we envisage a day with no medical input.'

The spokesman said the Highland authority was exploring alternative suggestions put forward by GPs.

Dr Paul Rasdale, Highland LMC chair and a GP in Dingwall, Ross-shire, said the underlying problem was that the region had a small pool of doctors to cover out-of-hours shifts.

He added that GPs wanted to ensure any new service would be 'safe and sustainable'.

By Nerys Hairon

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