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GPs fear for out-of-hours service as staffing issues force closures

A group of GPs has expressed concerns that their local out-of-hours service will be shut down, amid repeated closures during recent weekends.

The GPs, from practices in Helensburgh and Lochside on the west coast of Scotland, said in a note to patients last week that the out-of-hours service had been closed on four occasions in the last six weekends.

They went on to warn this ‘constitutes an unacceptable clinical risk which will be felt most by disadvantaged patients’, who had to travel 25 miles to the next nearest GP out-of-hours facility.

They added that they feared the closures were part of a ‘strategic plan’ to eventually close the centre, which covers 75,000 patients, as they had seen ‘no attempt’ to recruit nurses to unfilled positions.

The note said: ‘We are concerned that the inability to fill the posts represents part of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s strategic plan to reduce or close local GP out-of-hours care.

‘There has been no attempt to recruit unfilled nursing posts in the GP out-of-hours service.’

A spokesperson for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said they were facing significant challenges in staffing out-of-hours services across their eight locations.

‘There have been occasions when no GP has been available to cover a specific centre,’ they admitted.

They added: ‘In response to this ongoing pressure – which is not unique to Glasgow and Clyde – the GP out-of-hours team have developed initial thoughts on options to address these pressures.’

A full review of the service is being carried out by the health and social care partnerships to look at how it can be made more sustainable, the spokesperson added.

They said: ‘We continue to have medical staffing issues resulting in us moving GPs from site to site to provide a robust service and reduce any impact on patient care.’

According to the health board, transport was also made available to transfer any patients to the out-of-hours service at the Royal Alexandra Hospital when the Vale of Leven Hospital centre was closed.

Scottish GPC chair Dr Alan McDevitt said that ‘when practices or health boards struggle to recruit GPs, that inevitably has an impact on the services they deliver’.

He added: ‘When patients have an urgent problem that cannot wait until normal opening hours, then they need to be able to access the right professional at the right time and receive the care that they need.

‘Ensuring that people who need to see a GP out of hours are able to do so is hugely important and the only way to make these services sustainable in the long-term is to make a career as a GP attractive to more young doctors.’