Fears over future of GP surgeries after Coldingham's closure

Calls for an urgent plan to recruit GPs to the Borders are being made amid fears that more of the region’s surgeries could close.

By Kirsty Smyth
Wednesday, 17th November 2021, 11:56 pm
Updated Thursday, 18th November 2021, 12:11 am
Coldingam branch surgery closed last month.
Coldingam branch surgery closed last month.

The latest figures show there were 121 GPs working in the Borders in 2020 – 10 fewer than the 131 GPs employed in the NHS Borders region in 2019, and exactly the same number as in 2017.

The data was produced in response to questions raised in Holyrood by Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire’s Conservative MSP Rachael Hamilton following the closure of Coldingham Surgery due to a shortage of GPs and dispensing staff last month.

Mrs Hamilton said the numbers revealed a “long-term failure” of the SNP Government to recruit GPs in rural health boards, leaving many communities without easy access to a doctor in their own community.

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Rachael Hamilton says the SNP has presided over a "long term failure" to recruit GPs to rural health boards.

However, highlighting a 2.5% increase in the number of GPs working in the region since 2016, South of Scotland SNP MSP Emma Harper accused the Tories of “cherry picking year old statistics to talk down our NHS”.

Mrs Hamilton said: “It is shameful that the number of GPs working in the area has remained completely static in recent years. That is putting even more pressure on our GPs who are overwhelmed and have gone above and beyond during the pandemic.

“The recent closure of Coldingham medical practice reveals a growing concern.

"The SNP Government are continuing to fail to fully resource NHS Borders and making it harder and harder for rural communities to easily access frontline health services on their doorstep.

Emma Harper.

“Successive SNP Health Secretaries have dithered and delayed and ignored the need to recruit more GPs in the Borders and across rural Scotland.

“We must urgently see leadership from Humza Yousaf and a clear plan that will ensure patient demand for GP services across the Borders is guaranteed to be met going forward.”

Ms Harper said that the number of staff working in the NHS in Scotland was at an all-time high, and blamed recent staffing challenges on Brexit.

She said: "We have a record number of GPs working in Scotland, with more per head than in the rest of the UK.

"In NHS Borders and NHS Dumfries & Galloway we have had an increase in the number of GPs since 2016."Whilst there is no doubt our NHS is experiencing unprecedented pressure from the impact of the pandemic and the pressures of the winter months, we know that staffing challenges are being exacerbated by the disastrous effects of the Tories Brexit obsession.

"The Scottish Government is not directly responsible for GP recruitment but I am glad that they recognise the challenges that they face and are taking action to help health boards address them – including the trainee GP recruitment initiative which has seen 99% of GP training posts being filled this year and investing an additional £4m in health and social care staff wellbeing measures on top of the £8m made available through the NHS Recovery Plan."

Coldingham Branch Surgery and dispensing service – part of Eyemouth Medical Practice – shut down on October 1.

NHS Borders board said that running the surgery in School Road was "no longer sufficiently resilient or sustainable to remain viable".

It made the decision after partners of Eyemouth Medical Practice told the board in June that they were struggling to fill vacancies which had " significantly impacted on their ability to continue operating from Coldingham".

The practice’s surgery in Cockburnspath was closed in 2017.