NHS Borders insists response times for patients across the region have improved since its out-of-hours GP service was changed a month ago.
However, opponents of the decision to withdraw the out-of-hours service based at Duns, Kelso and Hawick say questions need to be answered .
Changes to the Borders Emergency Care Service (BECS) were quickly pushed through due to a “recruitment crisis”, an NHS Borders manager admitted last month.
But one Berwickshire community council chairman remains unimpressed, insisting that he had never received so many phone calls on one topic. He is unhappy about the lack of consultation.
Borders MP John Lamont has also voiced his concern in letters to NHS Borders and Scotland’s health minister.
With the issue showing no sign of going away, NHS Borders chief executive Calum Campbell felt inclined to intervene this week.
He insists a “full engagement exercise with the public” is in the pipeline.
In an attempt to diffuse growing anger, both about the decision and the absence of any consultation so far, he ordered the issuing of a statement to explain the change in more detail. He hopes it will clear up what he describes as a number of “misperceptions” about the alterations.
Included in the statement is an assertion that the out-of-hours service has actually speeded up in January following the removal of GP cover based locally in Duns, Kelso and Hawick.
Medical director Dr Sheena MacDonald is quoted as saying: “We are already seeing faster response times for patients that need us, regardless of their location.”
NHS Borders adds in its statement: “During the month of January since the out-of-hours doctors have all been located at the BGH the response times for patients based across the whole of the Borders area have improved compared to the same period last year.”
Dr MacDonald reasserts that immediate action was needed due to difficulties recruiting doctors, but insists patient safety has been at the forefront of her thinking.
“To keep the service constant and safe, and facing up to the shortage of doctors, we have applied common sense and clinical judgement to pool our resources to support the whole region, which continues to use the BGH as a hub for the Borders Emergency Care Service,” she said.
“Clinical care will radiate from the hub to whichever part of the Borders needs us. A simple, effective change that provides a strong foundation of care and safety for patients.
“We continue to try to recruit additional doctors and train additional nurses and paramedics to strengthen the service as we go forward.”
NHS Borders has explained that patients accessing the out-of-hours service continue to have their calls received by NHS 24.
From there, the BECS hub at Borders General Hospital contacts the patient and carries out further assessments regarding the need for telephone advice, a home visit or attendance to see a doctor.
Patients who need a home visit from a clinician or an ambulance will still have this provided or arranged.