PROPOSED boundary expansion of Riverside Medical Practice in Musselburgh, the biggest in East Lothian, was branded “a joke” at a meeting of the town’s community council.

The group received a letter from the Primary Care Contractor Organisation outlining plans to alter the practice boundary and take patients from the Blindwells new town development.

Construction will start on the first of the 1,600 phase one homes at the former opencast mine site between Prestonpans and Longniddry at the start of next year.

In the next decade and beyond, up to 6,000 new homes and community facilities are expected to be built there.

“I thought it was a joke and thought: ‘Is someone being funny?’” Irene Tait, Chairperson of Musselburgh & Inveresk Community Council, told the group’s recent meeting.

She claimed: “People are toiling just now to get an appointment.”

The GP practice is based at Musselburgh Primary Care Centre (MPCC) along with the Inveresk Medical Practice, which is separate.

Also proposed is a “Levenhall/Queen Margaret University extension” as part of the boundary change at the Riverside.

Tracey Gillies, medical director, NHS Lothian, told the Courier: “All GP practices local to the Blindwells area, including Riverside, were invited to apply to extend their boundary to provide health and care support for this new community.

“The issues are still under consideration and no decisions have been made.

“The primary care centre in Musselburgh had been built with additional space to accommodate the Wallyford growth and therefore there was not a need for a new facility in Wallyford.”

In a supporting statement, Riverside said the practice was in a strong position to expand “safely and sustainably” in a way that aligned with the Primary Care Improvement Plan (PCIP) strategy for the wider county.

“The new population at Blindwells may well prove to be open to the idea of accessing same day care at MPCC and this may help in any transition phase at the very least, until potential premises at Blindwells were fully ready and the population large enough to warrant consideration of a local CWIC base (Collaborative Working for Immediate Care on-the-day service),” it added.

The Levenhall/QMU extension was, it said, to “better reflect the patient population Riverside already services at QMU and the eastern edges of the boundary in the area around Goshen Farm Steading.”

Community councillors organised an urgent meeting with East Lothian councillors and were concerned to hear that they were not aware of the expansion plan.

The community council has also sent a letter to the Primary Care Contractor Organisation which was copied to the town’s councillors, East Lothian’s chief medical officer Alison Macdonald, and Councillor Fiona O’Donnell, chair of East Lothian Integrated Joint Board (IJB).

The group is calling for an early meeting with practice representatives, IJB and NHS Lothian to discuss matters in more depth.

The community council reply stated: “Given the current state of the practice, we find it incredible that expansion plans should even be considered before existing current issues are resolved.

“We have had numerous complaints from members of the public about the difficulties in getting appointments, the phone system and length of time to get non-urgent appointments. The latest issue involves the upgrading of the telephone appointment system where non-urgent appointments are not available until October 1.

“The major issue is actually getting an appointment within a reasonable period. We are told there is a two week wait when all the anecdotal evidence is that it is at least three if not four weeks.”

A spokesperson from Riverside said: “In East Lothian, as in many parts of Scotland, people are living longer with increasingly complex health and care needs.

“In response to this growing challenge, Riverside Medical Practice has been working hard over the last few years to transform the way our patients are being cared for, working closely with a wider range of healthcare professionals to ensure the right care is provided by the right person at the time help is needed.

“Through this, the practice has made significant improvements in providing ‘same day’ appointments for those whose health concern may be urgent. In addition, through making these positive changes, Riverside has been able to provide more and longer advance bookable GP appointments.

“Riverside is growing our team of GPs and has successfully recruited seven new GPs over the last two years.

“The practice is currently going through a period of significant telephone and clinical systems upgrades that will not only address the limitations patients at the Riverside practice have experienced but will introduce a new low-charge 0300 number.

“Once complete, the upgrades, in line with the new way of working, will provide long-term benefits for all patients in the area. However, it must be stressed that if a patient needs to see a healthcare professional urgently, then they will do.

“We appreciate that change in the way services are provided can take a period of time to settle in; however, we know from patient feedback that we are getting it right, and this is reflected by the fact that we have received complaints from only 0.14 per cent of patients this year.

“We know that the significant majority of our patients have a positive experience of healthcare through Riverside.”