MUSSELBURGH'S MSP has confirmed that no expansion of Riverside Medical Practice’s boundary will be allowed until the service is functioning “at a satisfactory standard”.

Colin Beattie MSP said this decision followed talks with Jeane Freeman MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport.

Last year, the Primary Care Contractor Organisation outlined plans to alter the practice boundary to take patients from the Blindwells new town development.

Construction is set to get under way on the first of the 1,600 phase one homes at the former opencast mine site between Prestonpans and Longniddry.

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

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

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

After it merged with Eskbridge Medical Practice, Riverside became the largest practice in East Lothian and one of the biggest in Scotland, with about 19,000 patients.

Mr Beattie said: “From correspondence with local constituents, it was clear to me that action needed to be taken to remedy the ongoing issues in relation to Riverside Medical Practice.

“I have spoken with Jeane Freeman, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, who is now working closely with NHS Lothian to ensure that a solution is found.

“It was decided that the best route forward was to allow no further boundary expansions of the practice until the service is functioning at a satisfactory standard.

“I am sure that this decision will be welcomed by all those who have concerns about the practice.”

He added: “Of course, the NHS does not have complete control over the operations of the practice, given that the doctors are simply contracted by the NHS to run this service. However, NHS Lothian will work closely with the management going forward to ensure their budget is managed more effectively, and that the issues at hand are adequately addressed.”

Members of Musselburgh and Inveresk Community Council have also told health bosses that the proposed boundary expansion would be “a step in the wrong direction”.

The group contacted the Primary Care Contractor Organisation, stressing that it was “absolutely opposed” to any change in the boundary area.

Members also called for a meeting with health bosses, which took place recently at the practice and involved: Irene Tait, community council chairperson; Margaret Stewart, community council secretary; Holly Kilday, a community council member; Dr Richard Fairclough and Dr Joana Stenke of Riverside Medical Practice; ward councillors Stuart Currie and Katie Mackie; Iain Gorman, East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership’s head of operations; and Councillor Fiona O’Donnell, chairperson of East Lothian Integration Joint Board.

The community councillors highlighted complaints they had received from members of the community, including:

  • Trying to contact the practice by phone was very difficult for most people and left them frustrated;
  • The waiting time was too long – people trying to make routine appointments were asked to phone back on several occasions;
  • One patient having an appointment with a nurse to give bloods and have blood pressure taken, only to be told by the phlebotomist on the day that they could not take blood pressure and the patient had to make another appointment;
  • Having to stand in a queue before being allowed into the practice;
  • Patients getting “upset, angry, and very disillusioned” with the practice.

A statement issued by the community council following the discussion said: “We wondered why on earth the practice would want to take on more of a workload when clearly they are not coping with what they have to deal with at present.

“The practice acknowledged the fact that they had undergone many changes in the last few years, not least the fact that they are on their third telephone system.

“The practice also stated they will need to step up to the mark with a communication plan, making sure that everyone in our community is aware of how the practice is working and what options are available to them.

“The expectation from the public is, if they phone for a doctors’ appointment, they will see a doctor and this is not always going to be the case.

“When you call you will be given two options, same day or non-urgent, and this will enable the staff to put you on to the right person who can help and this could be NHS 24, paramedics, physio, mental health or occupational therapist (CWIC service); or alternatively, a doctor if necessary on the same day.

Wrong direction “We discussed the boundaries and made them aware that we felt that to take on Blindwells would be a step in the wrong direction.

“The meeting was quite positive and hopefully, moving forward, we will keep in touch with the practice and they with us so that everyone is kept informed.”

Dr Stenke and Dr Fairclough issued a joint statement, saying: “We were delighted to meet with the Musselburgh and Inveresk Community Council representatives and local councillors. We felt it was a really positive opportunity to discuss many of the changes that have happened in Musselburgh over the last few years to stabilise and develop primary care services.

“It is really important for us at Riverside to understand the views of the community we serve, which can be hugely supportive in improving services. For example, feedback on our old phone system helped us to understand the issues that our patients were experiencing and led to us developing a new telephone system that was more suitable for our patients’ needs as well as those of the practice.

“Riverside, along with other practices in the county, are collaborating with and supporting East Lothian’s Health and Social Care Partnership’s plan to grow health services to meet the needs of a growing population.

“We remain keen to improve our engagement and communication with the local community, and the meeting was a positive step to build links with local groups.

“We are grateful to the community council representatives and local councillors for taking the time to visit us at Riverside Medical Practice and we look forward to developing a closer and collaborative relationship with them.”

An East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership spokesperson said: “We thought the meeting with Riverside and the community council was very positive. We were impressed by Riverside’s commitment to engaging with the community and communicating developments. We look forward to supporting them in any way that we can.”

Councillor Mackie added: “It was a helpful meeting with community stakeholders and local GPs. There was recognition that previous changes to the Riverside practice could have been better communicated to patients and a real willingness to improve engagement with the local community.

“Hopefully this is the start of really meaningful engagement with local GPs at Riverside.”