A PILOT scheme to help patients at a Buckhaven surgery make appointments more quickly is being kept in the waiting room until next year.
Despite reports that the venture at Muiredge surgery could be in place by Christmas, the need for staff training means it will not start until spring 2012.
Apparent difficulties with patients trying to book appointments had been highlighted by local councillor Andrew Rodger, with cases of people being told to ring back at a certain time and finding they could not get through, or all the slots filled.
Cllr Rodger – who maintains he was told originally the pilot could be in place by December – had feared problems over the winter, for older people in particular, who risked slipping and injuring themselves if they tried to visit their surgery in person to see a GP.
NHS Fife has confirmed that, from spring, a nurse practitioner will triage calls from patients who request an appointment.
This will ensure each patient is allocated an appointment with the most appropriate member of the team, who could be the GP, one of the nursing team or allied health professionals, or even another service provider, such as the local authority or voluntary sector.
The model will focus on specific patient groups or ailments and, if successful, it will be extended out across the practice.
Dr Les Bisset, clinical director of Kirkcaldy and Levenmouth Community Health Partnership (CHP) said: “The motivation is to respond to the increasing demand from patients to obtain appointments with their GP.
“Applying the specialist knowledge and skills of the nurse practitioner to direct patients to the most appropriate member of the team will make sure each patient’s needs are met within an acceptable timescale.
“It will also free up the time spent by GPs who will be able to dedicate more of their time to the patients whose needs are more appropriate to their skills.”
Staff will begin training soon ahead of the pilot roll-out.
Cllr Rodger said even if the scheme was delayed, improvements should still be made before the end of December, such as installing extra phone lines to cope with calls.
With similar issues over appointments allegedly arising at Leven, an NHS Fife spokesman said Kirkcaldy and Levenmouth practices welcomed any suggestions to improve access to services.
They wanted patients to feed back to their practice, direct to the CHP, or any independent support which could progress individual ideas.