Pressure mounting as NHS Fife told ‘We must fix this GP crisis’

The out of hours service through the night at Glenrothes has been suspended
The out of hours service through the night at Glenrothes has been suspended

A Fife-wide campaign and petition is mounting pressure on health bosses to reinstate the three Out-Of-Hours emergency care services closed suddenly six weeks ago.

Public meetings have taken place in Glenrothes, Dunfermline and St Andrews this week all demanding a guarantee that the midnight to 8am Primary Care Emergency Service (PCES) in those towns be reinstated at the end of the three month closure.

And while individuals are fighting for local services, an orchestrated Fife-wide campaign is now coming together, with a petition set to be presented to Michael Kellet, director of Fife Health and Social care Partnership ahead of a crucial meeting of health bosses later this month.

The partnership was forced to close the three services leaving just Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy to deal with out-of-hours care for Fifers, because of the lack of GPs and fears over patient safety.

The Scottish Government has admitted that Fife faces “significant issues … with GP recruitment and retention” as it failed to give its confidence to the three closed out-of-hour services reopening when reviewed in June.

The admission of challenges facing NHS Fife to recruit GPs came in response to a question by Claire Baker, MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife.

Fife curently has 11 of its 55 GP practices attempting to recrute staff, and of the 150 registered GPs, just 68 regularly cover PCES.

“We have known for some time that Fife is facing a crisis in recruiting and retaining GPs so if there are well known difficulties with practices struggling to recruit GPs for during the day, it is unsurprising that finding cover at night is even harder,” said the MSP.

“Whilst the lack of consultation and the suddenness of these closures is concerning and raises legitimate criticisms of Fife Health and Social Care, the Scottish Government must accept its own responsibility.”

At a public meeting held in St Andrews, Dr Gerry Smyth told the audience that the decision to close the service between midnight-8am at St Andrews’ hospital was “unnecessary because the staffing difficulties arose in central and west Fife”.

He added that he felt “the decisions that have been made were ill-considered, unnecessary and unsafe.”

He also said that he and three of his colleagues had offered to do out-of-hours work at St Andrews, but were turned down.

Dr Seonaid McCallum, associate medical director at the Fife Health & Social Care Partnership, which made the decision to close the service, said that the GPs had only offered to provide the service in north east Fife and had rejected to cover the whole of Fife, and that had been the reason their offer had been rejected.

Speaking about the emergency decision to close the service, Ms McCallum said: “One of our doctors had to stop working for us – that’s what pushed us.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, MP Stephen Gethins called for the service to be reopened before a planned consultation on the takes place.

The Integrated Joint Board is to meet on May 22 to decide whether to postpone a public consultation regarding a wider reshaping of the current primary care service.