HEALTH bosses at a Musselburgh medical practice which is one of the biggest in Scotland say that wider health system changes are urgently needed.

Their plea follows a “large and unexpected” surge in demand at Riverside Medical Practice – which has about 19,000 patients – which was making it “really hard” for patients to get through on the phone and book an appointment.

It comes as an online petition has been launched by patients calling for “urgent change”.

The number of call attempts to the practice, the largest in East Lothian, rose sharply in March after a period where the number of call attempts were slowly decreasing to pre-Covid-19 pandemic levels.

The Riverside, which is based at Musselburgh Primary Care Centre, said that the pattern of call attempts had changed too, as more calls were made at 8am to try and book an appointment, with a larger number of redials being seen.

Dr Richard Fairclough, GP partner, said: “We’re looking at all of the data we get via our phone system as quickly as possible, so we can understand the full extent of the situation that we and the local community are facing.

“We’re also trying to better quantify all the different reasons people call, so we can better understand how to best direct patients to other more appropriate health services, and to our online services.

“But one thing is apparent: demand is completely outstripping the health system’s capacity to meet that need, and there are more people needing an appointment than each appointment we have available. This has been the case for some time.

“This means that some people are being left without the expert support from their GP that we desperately want to offer, and we recognise the depth of feeling in the community about this.

“We’re doing absolutely everything we can to try and improve the situation, including increasing the number of clinical and non-clinical staff we have, and working to improve our phone system and the way we manage calls we receive.

“We need to be clear, though, that all of these changes will take time and will not improve the situation overnight.

“Once all of the recruitment is completed, we will be at the limit of people we can employ at the practice, so the number of calls we can answer and the number of appointments we then have available will not substantially increase without wider health system change.

“The practice met with Colin Beattie MSP last week, along with East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership, community councils and our patient participation group, all of whom have expressed their willingness to work collaboratively with us to bring change.

“We’ve made clear to all the pressure we’re experiencing and the impact this has for people in Musselburgh and for our staff. We’ve also made clear the changes that need to happen if people in Musselburgh are to have their health needs met – namely a rapid move to put in place the changes the Scottish Government has already agreed must happen right across Scotland to relieve what was recognised several years ago as an unsustainable workload in general practice.

“These changes include the movement of urgent care, pharmacotherapy (prescriptions), vaccinations and community nursing away from general practice, to come instead under the control of local health and social care partnerships. This will allow GPs to focus on their role as expert medical generalists, working to improve the long-term health of both individuals and the wider community they serve.

“As Musselburgh continues to grow, we also urgently need to hear from those overseeing the development of the town to hear how they plan to service the primary care needs of the community.”

The online petition launched by patients says: “Patients’ frustrations are running high as appointments are increasingly difficult and mostly impossible to secure.

“Wait times on calls to connect to the surgery are often in excess of an hour, only to be told there are no appointments available and the patient needs to call back the following day to repeat the frustrating process, with no guarantee of an appointment at the end.

“Reports of calls being made every day for a week with no success in securing an appointment are now commonplace.

“Urgent change is needed, as the health of patients registered with the practice is being put at risk on a daily basis.

“The staff within the practice are working flat out but it is obvious demand far exceeds supply.”

The petition will be lodged with the Scottish Parliament’s Cabinet Health Minister and Lothian Health Board Patient Experience Committee.

They are being asked to intervene and assist the practice “to analyse their current problems, thereafter equip them with the resources needed to implement an accessible appointment system which will, in turn, provide comprehensive medical care for every registered patient at the practice”.

The petition is at

The practice said it was pleased that its patients were adding their voices to the calls for change.

A spokesperson for the East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “ELHSCP is already delivering a wide range of self-referral services that offer patients sameday access to specialist clinical, mental health and MSK support (fast access to physio and OT support for joint and muscle pain) in Musselburgh and across the county. These services have been designed in partnership with local practices to deliver the GP contract and direct people to the right care from the right professional at the right time.

“These have proved to be very popular with patients and we would urge people to think about referring themselves to these services without going to their GP first.”