TWO doctors’ surgeries in Musselburgh are to merge to form the second largest practice in the Lothians, with about 19,000 patients.

The East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership has received the go-ahead from NHS Lothian to transfer Eskbridge Medical Practice’s 8,870 patients to the neighbouring Riverside practice towards the end of the year.

Eskbridge, which is under NHS control, will close, with the enlarged Riverside practice continuing under the management of the GP partners under “independent contractor arrangements”.

Both – along with Inveresk Medical Practice, which is unaffected by the change – are located in the Musselburgh Primary Care Centre.

READ MORE: NHS to take over Musselburgh GP practice

Dr Richard Fairclough, one of the partners at Riverside practice, said: “We are really excited about this move.

“The larger practice will retain the services of staff at Eskbridge, enabling us to expand the number of GPs, practice nurses, nurse practitioners and other specialist health professionals in our team and increase the range of services we can offer.

“Patients may have concerns about this development but I think once the new enlarged practice is established, along with the new access service we will be able to offer all our patients a much more flexible and responsive service and they will really be able to see the benefits.”

David Small, director of East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership, added: “The population in Musselburgh is growing rapidly and we know that it will continue to do so for some time.

“We think that by consolidating services in the new Riverside practice we will have enough capacity to meet this challenge.

“It will also give us a platform for trialling new approaches to healthcare delivery that will benefit not just Musselburgh but East Lothian in the longer term too.

“The enhanced Riverside practice will offer longer appointments for patients with complex needs and long-term conditions, improving continuity of care and providing an improved experience for patients.

“This new approach in Riverside will work alongside the new Musselburgh Primary Care Access Service with NHS 24.

“The new service will enable people to phone one number to get through to a team of trained, confidential advisers who will provide support over the phone and arrange same-day face-to-face appointments with appropriate experienced and expert clinicians wherever this is necessary.

Keen to engage “We are keen to engage with patients about all of this and I am pleased to say that I will be meeting representatives from Eskbridge Patient Participation Group on September 28 to talk about these plans and get their reaction. We are setting up a similar group for Riverside patients in October and I hope to be able to meet with them very soon too.”

Eskbridge, which was taken under direct NHS control on December 1, 2015, was previously independently managed by its GP partners and supported five care homes in the Musselburgh area.

The move was prompted by pressures on the practice arising from national difficulties in recruiting new GPs after one doctor retired and another resigned.

A new booking system was introduced whereby patients phone, leave their name and number, and a doctor calls them back, but it has been heavily criticised.

READ MORE: 'Dreadful' new booking system for GP practice criticised

At a meeting of Musselburgh and Inveresk Community Council on Tuesday, Irene Tait, chairwoman, said: “The main concern is the appointment system because people sit for over an hour pressing buttons to get through and you can do this 30 or 40 odd times before you get an appointment or answer.

“At the Riverside there is a problem with queuing and that’s on a daily basis first thing in the morning.”

Councillor John Williamson said: “Hopefully the proposed merger will remove any uncertainty about the future of the Eskbridge Practice and provide a service tailored to meet the demands of our growing population.”

Councillor Stuart Currie said: “I support any moves to improve the position for my constituents in accessing the healthcare they require.

“From the feedback I have received there is no doubt that the way in which appointments are made had to improve. This is in no way a reflection on the staff but more about the system.

“Whilst we are still at an early stage I hope that staff are being fully consulted and that the community will be similarly kept up to date.”

Councillor Katie Mackie said: “As an existing patient at Eskbridge it is clear the current system of securing an appointment is unsatisfactory.

“With the growing crisis around the shortage of GPs, I believe there is little alternative but to try new methods of delivering healthcare.

“However, it’s extremely important the rollout of this new system is closely monitored and any changes are well communicated to patients at both practices.”

Councillor Andy Forrest added: “I am really pleased this has happened. It is a new, innovative way to deliver the service and is going to be of great benefit.

“There is to be feedback from the patient participation groups and hopefully it will work.”