Eyemouth demands better access to town's GPs

Eyemouth Medical Practice has pledged to improve access to its services after a catalogue of issues were aired at a public meeting held in the town yesterday.

By Kirsty Smyth
Wednesday, 2nd March 2022, 1:46 pm

However, it warned that “change will not happen overnight” and said that the impact of the pandemic was going to be felt for years to come.

Dozens of concerned patients attended the meeting in Eyemouth Community Centre on Tuesday. March 1 to discuss problems they have encountered at the practice in recent years.

Hosted by Eyemouth Community Council, the meeting was called by its chairman and Honorary Provost of the town James Anderson, who submitted a letter of complaint on behalf of the community to practice partner Dr Kirsty Robinson last month.

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Eyemouth Medical Practice.

Seventeen individual complaints were listed, with most relating to the lack of access to doctors and difficulties getting an appointment.

These issues were also discussed at a meeting of the community council on Monday, which was attended by doctors from the practice as well as Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP Rachael Hamilton.

Updating the public on Tuesday, Mr Anderson said that the system explained to the community council by practice partners the previous evening “made good sense”.

However, he added: “There is a huge difference between what the doctors said should be happening and what is actually happening.”

Following discussions with the practice, Mr Anderson said he hoped to see improvements in a number of areas – including a booking system that extended beyond the calendar month and the end of the “phone lottery” patients play when they are required to phone into the practice’s single phone line at 8.30am – in the next four weeks.

He also said that the practice needed to improve its communication with the community, and that the first point of contact at the surgery must be “compassionate”.

"For two years we have had the message saying be kind, treat the staff with respect. But that hasn't always happened the other way,” Mr Anderson said.

“We're not on a witch hunt. If you can get beyond that first obstacle and see a doctor you will be dealt with appropriately. A good few of them do a good job and we are grateful for the service they give when we can get it.”

However, the “impossibility” of being able to see a doctor was a common theme.

"You’re asked if it’s an emergency,” Mr Anderson said. “If the reply is yes, it’s ‘phone an ambulance or 111’, and if it’s no it’s ‘we only deal with emergencies”.

A number of patients reported that in recent months they had been told by practice staff that they must have a PCR test in order to have a telephone consultation with a doctor.

Others said that the issues had been ongoing for a number of years.

One patient said: “They are using the Covid stick to beat us all with. There have been problems at the practice since long before Covid.”

A handful of patients have also reported that their complaints have been met with the threat of deregistration.

In a joint statement, NHS Borders chief executive Ralph Roberts and the partners of Eyemouth Medical Practice said: “We were pleased to have the opportunity to attend the Eyemouth Community Council meeting on Monday evening, as well as the public meeting on Tuesday in order to listen to the issues raised by those present.

“We heard that some people are not content with communication when they are interacting with our teams, or with the availability of appointments. We have committed to act on this feedback and see what improvements can be made.

"We would like to remind people that if you are unhappy with any aspect of the care you have received from the practice then the practice is happy to address your concerns with you; either by speaking directly to the clinician caring for you or by using the complaints handling procedure.

“We were pleased to hear the many positive comments made about the care provided by the staff at the practice. However we do recognise the frustrations over the past two years in relation to seeing a GP and accessing primary care services.

"These frustrations are not unique to Eyemouth and the surrounding area. The pandemic has changed many things across the entire country, and whilst we hope to return to something resembling normal over the coming months it is important this is done in a way that keeps our patients and staff safe.

"We are currently waiting for further direction from Scottish Government about what access to Primary Care will look like going forward and can reassure the community that once this is available we will use it to plan how our services operate in the future.

“As we move into what we hope will be a sustained period of recovery and remobilisation of health services – including Primary Care – we want to be clear and honest that change will not happen overnight. Patience is going to be important as we move forward because the impact of the past two years is going to take a number of years to deal with.

"It is important to recognise that even before the pandemic we were working to improve the sustainability of our Primary Care services. This has included the introduction of new staff such as advanced nurse practitioners, physiotherapists, pharmacists and mental health practitioners to the Primary Care setting. This allows patients to see the most appropriate clinician for their needs and enables our GPs to support the patients who most need their particular skills and expertise.

"These developments are taking place across Scotland and are intended to make practices like Eyemouth more sustainable and effective.

“We would also like to emphasise that, in the same way that our patients are treated, our staff also deserve to be treated with kindness and respect as we adapt and work together to offer the best services we can.

“NHS Borders have offered a further meeting with the Provost and would be happy to attend a future meeting of the community council in due course to provide an update on progress made.”