The problems experienced by residents trying to access the practice since the onset of Covid-19 were discussed at last week’s meeting of Eyemouth Community Council.
Among the issues raised was the impossibility of getting an appointment; the practice’s “refusal” to see people; the attitude of some staff; and patients being made “to run the gauntlet” of the phone system.
Residents said cancers and serious illness had gone undiagnosed and that mental health issues had spiralled due to patients’ inability to see a doctor.
Elderly and vulnerable patients said they felt “locked out” of the surgery, and feared it would never reopen its doors.
Following the meeting, Eyemouth Community Council chairman James Anderson has written to the practice on behalf of the community.
He said he did so “with a heavy heart”, adding: “I am sorry that the complaint may affect the morale of good hard working staff within the centre.”
However, he explained that the public letter of complaint was a result of many requests to address issues over many months from patients in the town.
In the letter to practice partner Dr Kirsty Robinson, Mr Anderson said it was felt that Eyemouth Medical Practice had “let its patients down in the worst possible way”.
“It has become clear that as life has moved forward and rules and restrictions changed, Eyemouth Medical Practice has continued to run by the same protocols put in place during the first months of 2020,” Mr Anderson said.
"Clearly PPE and other measures are in place to minimise infection transmission. If these measures are effective can we not trust those measurers to allow the elderly better face to face care?”
He said that last year’s decision to close Coldingham branch surgery had added extra pressure on Eyemouth, and continued: “Covid19 is not the only illness in Eyemouth or the surrounding area and other medical issues need just as much attention as Covid.
"The triage system in place allows under qualified reception staff to decide who should get through the gauntlet. Nobody feels their medical concerns are being triaged by duty clinicians as should be.
“People can and should be allowed to risk assess their own visit to their doctor's surgery.
"Staff of the medical practice clearly go to the shops for food, go to weddings, go to restaurants, so why can they not mix with the general public to do the job they are paid to do?”
He added: “The duty of care for Eyemouth patients has deteriorated over the years – there is more chance of getting the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow than getting an appointment."
A spokesperson for NHS Borders said they would not enter into discussion about the letter via the media.
However, when asked by The Berwickshire whether it was Trust policy to keep GP’s doors closed or if it was down to individual practices; and if patients would ever be welcomed back to surgeries, they said: "GPs are independent contractors which means there may be some subtle differences in how individual practices operate, however since the onset of the pandemic every time a patient needs an appointment currently, the first conversation with a clinician is likely to take place over the phone.
"The clinician will then assess whether the patient needs to be seen face to face. General Practice consists of a multidisciplinary team and often assistance can be provided by healthcare professionals (such as physiotherapists, pharmacists and psychologists) without the need to consult with a GP.
“In common with levels of demand across the health and care service, demand on GP Practices is currently at an all-time high and is estimated to be running at 150% of ‘pre pandemic’ levels. “Patients are seen according to clinical priority and we thank people for their patience if they need to wait longer for an appointment than usual.”
Eyemouth Medical Practice declined to comment.