High demand and staff shortages and staff shortages led to long waits for patients using Fife’s redesigned out-of-hours GP service on Saturday night (7th December).
The situation arose less than five weeks after health and social care chiefs ended a controversial 19-month contingency measure, which required all patients to travel to the Victoria Hospital overnight and at weekends. The new model began on November 4, with those in need of urgent but not emergency care between should now be seen at one of three centres in Kirkcaldy, Dunfermline or St Andrews.
Due to the number of people calling NHS 24 for an appointment with a family doctor being directed to Victoria Hospital, there were long waits in a “mobbed” waiting room, while staff were moved between centres to ensure care was provided.
The introduction of the new service followed a concerted campaign against proposals to permanently close the out-of-hours base at St Andrews Community Hospital. However, the St Andrews centre closes at 10pm and patients are directed to Kirkcaldy thereafter.
One patient who was given an appointment at Victoria Hospital said he had been told it was due to a lack of staff. “The waiting room was mobbed and people were saying they had been waiting five hours beyond their appointment time,” he said. The staff were great and they were working flat out but there’s not enough of them and there were a lot of people coming in.”
Dr Angela Anderson, Chair of the St Andrews Out-of-Hours Group, which has fought to retain services in north east Fife, said opening the service in the town until midnight would have avoided “unacceptable” waits for patients.
“The closure of the out-of-hours unit at Glenrothes and the reduced hours at St Andrews mean more patients are being sent to Kirkcaldy, which in turn increases delays and waiting times for these patients,” she said. During the contingency arrangements there was no problem staffing the St Andrews unit until midnight during weekday evenings and at weekends. We are keen to see this level of service returned to the St Andrews unit.”
Claire Dobson, Fife Health and Social Care Partnership’s divisional general manager for west Fife, said the urgent care service had been busier than normal on Saturday. The service was fully staffed in the lead up to the weekend, she said. However, due to unexpected absence staff moved between treatment centres to support safe access to care, which is in line with our operational processes. No centres were closed”.
She added “Where people need to access urgent care, it is important that they ‘talk before they walk’ by calling NHS 24 rather than just going to a centre. This way we can help ensure that people are seen by the right professional, in the right place at the right time. Where it is required the urgent care service will arrange treatment centre appointments based on the person’s clinical need.