A group of local GPs could soon take over the management of an out-of-hours service in Scotland following an ‘unsafe’ level of closures.
The out-of-hours service at the Vale of Leven Hospital, run by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board, has been affected by staff shortages since 2017, which has led to repeated weekend closures.
Following a recent meeting at the hospital – which included NHS officials, local campaigners and MSPs – local GP Dr Brian McLachlan told the Helensburgh Advertiser he and his colleagues were ‘keen to work with the health board to try and find a long-term, sustainable solution’.
The health board also committed to finding a ‘sustainable solution’ by building on links with local GPs and other healthcare professionals in the community.
According to a freedom of information request submitted by Scottish health minister Jackie Baillie, the out-of-hours facility shut on 85 occasions during 2018 and 44 in the first four months of 2019.
Dr McLachlan said the current level of closures was ‘unacceptable and unsafe’, warning about the ‘significant clinical governance issues’ and the impact on patient care.
He said: ‘The GP out-of-hours service at the Vale of Leven Hospital is a core, essential service which must be delivered locally. We, as a local GP community, are keen to work with the health board to try and find a long-term, sustainable, quality solution.
‘At Friday’s meeting the health board’s officials gave assurances that they are taking steps to recruit out-of-hours staff. Without this service, patient care will suffer – especially for the most vulnerable patients – and the loss of the service would put the whole hospital’s future under significant threat.’
He continued: ‘The current level of closures is unacceptable and unsafe and raises significant clinical governance issues. These are concerns that are shared by the whole of the GP community.’
Ms Baillie said patients living in Vale of Leven’s catchment area have been left with no choice but to travel to the Royal Alexandra Hospital, located 18 miles away from the Vale of Leven Hospital, or further, to access treatment.
She said: ‘Our out-of-hours service has suffered more closures than any other out of hours in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde – more than 80 last year and 50 for the first five months of this year alone.
‘Patients who are ill are being forced to travel greater and greater distances for basic healthcare and for many, where that simply isn’t an option, they are waiting until daytime to seek help – this could end in disaster.’
The current rota for the Vale of Leven Hospital’s medical assessment unit is staffed by GPs trained to provide relevant hospital care. Ms Bailie called on NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to explore a similar option to ensure the sustainability of the out-of-hours service.
She said: ‘The health board told us that they are going to explore this type of model for the Vale. I want them to include local GPs in that discussion so that we get a sustainable solution. I hope that in the meantime they will ensure that the GP out-of-hours at the Vale remains open.’
An NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde spokesperson said: ‘The Vale of Leven Hospital plays a central role in the provision of care to the local community and we are very clear that we are committed to providing a sustainable out-of-hours service at the hospital.
‘The GP out-of-hours service works closely with local GP and community colleagues, NHS 24 and we will be building on these links in the coming months to develop a sustainable solution.’
They added: ‘The majority of shifts at all our GP out of-hours centres are filled. However, when we don’t fill all our shifts we need to allocate staff to ensure adequate geographical cover is provided and that demand is met.’
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde announced earlier this month that it had ‘no choice’ but to temporarily close the service at all but one of its centres between midnight on Saturday 1 June and 07:59 on Sunday 2 June, instead offering only home visits, due to a shortage of GPs ‘willing to work’.
Meanwhile, one in 10 providers across the UK admitted to periods with no overnight or weekend GP cover in 2016, affecting four million people.