With six of the 13 GP practices in Midlothian currently operating with restricted patient lists and all but three currently with vacancies, just what is being done to rectify the problem in what is the fastest growing local authority area in Scotland?
Until recently there had been seven Midlothian practices with restricted lists, but with the removal of restrictions at Newbattle Medical Practice and the opening of a new surgery in Newtongrange next year taking up to 5000 new patients, things are starting to look brighter regarding this long-running issue.
Allister Short, head of older people and primary care with the Midlothian Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “Newbattle Medical Practice has taken on the new practice in Newtongrange and this has allowed them to recruit more staff and re-open their list ahead of the opening of the Newtongrange Clinic early in 2018.
“There remain six practices with restrictions to their lists but all are being allocated new patients and we are expecting some of these practices to reopen their lists over the next few months.
“GP recruitment remains a national challenge and posts are taking longer to fill. Increasing demand from patients, workforce constraints and new house building are combining to make it very difficult for practices.”
The six surgeries still operating with a restricted list are Dalkeith Medical Practice, Pathhead Medical Centre, Newbyres Medical Centre and the three Bonnyrigg surgeries Quarryfoot, Strathesk and Dalhousie.
Midlothian MP Danielle Rowley (Lab) told the Advertiser she has been left frustrated in her efforts to tackle the issue, having written to Midlothian Council, the Scottish Government and the two Midlothian MSPs - Colin Beattie and Christine Grahame. She said: “I had hoped that the MSPs would agree to at least meet with me and agree there is an issue with GP practices in Midlothian.
“They are both part of the party of government so I was hoping they could do something for the people of Midlothian regarding this major issue. I’m absolutely holding my hand open at the moment for anyone to come to me and work with me to help alleviate some of these concerns constituents are having.
“Especially with so many new people coming to the area and not being able to register with a doctor.
“I’m putting political differences aside and doing what I think is best for the people of Midlothian, but I’m not happy with the responses I received.”
Danielle admitted this isn’t a new problem in Midlothian, but she is worried it will get worse.
She said: “It has always been an issue I have been aware of, not only have I and friends and family tried and failed to get an appointment, since the election a lot of people have raised this with me.
“It’s definitely one of the biggest issues in Midlothian at the moment, the other main one is housing, and they tie together.
“There are a lot of developments happening in Midlothian but we are not seeing investment into health to keep up with that growth.”
Ms Rowley was also left disappointed with the response she received from Holyrood.
She said:“The minister wrote back to me and didn’t seem to understand the pressure house building is having on services here.
“It’s not addressed my constituents’ concerns. I’m really concerned about the vacancies and the rate of population growth without seeing any solid plans to manage health care.”
Midlothian South MSP Christine Grahame (SNP) hit back, she said: “I did ask Ms Rowley to pass any individual constituency cases to me but none were forthcoming.
“I have no difficulty in cross party working, as I have done since being elected as an MSP 18 years ago.
“But I think Ms Rowley with her few months as a politician should focus on the issues relevant to Westminster and to her constituents such as cuts in benefits which must impact on health, and Brexit which is already affecting EU nationals in Scotland working in the NHS as GPs, dentists and nurses.”
And Midlothian North MSP Colin Beattie (SNP) said: “I agreed there were issues surrounding GP access, although it is important to note in Midlothian patients can either register with the practices who are accepting new patients or will be assigned one on a rota basis.
“I was happy to outline to Ms Rowley some of the steps the Scottish Government is taking to solve this issue including the recently announced strategy on improving and integrating pharmaceutical services.
“I also invited her to send any concerned constituents directly to me as my role as an MSP clearly covers the devolved issue of health.
“Fundamentally I did not feel a meeting with Ms Rowley would be a constructive use of both of our time in representing our Midlothian constituents over this issue when I can – and have – spent time visiting local surgeries and meeting with the Minister for Health to bring concerns directly to those with ultimate responsibility.”
Health Secretary Shona Robison defended the Scottish Government’s “record investment” in health, adding: “Funding for GPs will increase by £250 million a year by 2021, as part of our overall commitment to increase primary care funding by £500m.
“In this financial year, over £71m of that funding is to support general practice – as part of this, we’ve increased funding for GP recruitment and retention fivefold to £5m. However, Brexit is one of the biggest threats to recruiting and retaining doctors, nurses and other key NHS staff.
“We are also implementing a range of measures to support practice sustainability including working with the British Medical Association to deliver a new GP contract which will provide a strengthened and clarified role for Scotland’s GPs.”