EVERYONE in East Lothian knows someone who is struggling to get the medical attention they require.

The county abounds with stories about the marathon efforts required to physically see a GP and the six-hour waits at A&E consequently.

The tales of the majority of whom are having a positive experience largely go untold, the full medical picture remains clouded.

Patient frustration is understandably rising because they are unaware of what to expect from their GP service.

This is largely because the medical profession itself is sending out mixed signals.

In defence of their preference to first ‘triage’ all calls remotely, GPs refer to outdated clinical guidance issued in March 2020 – guidance which isn’t being followed in private practices.

The NHS Recovery Plan, published by the Scottish Government (24/08/21), identified the restoration of face-to-face GP consultations as a “key aim”.

The Health Secretary quickly followed up that plan by stating that the NHS would remain on an emergency footing until March 2022.

What this all means for face-to-face GP appointments is largely down to the individual preference of each GP and practice; some are doing many more than others.

That’s why the claim made by Dr Jon Turvill (clinical director, East Lothian Health & Social Partnership, ELHSCP) that clinicians are seeing “thousands of patients” weekly was unhelpful.

It makes little difference, say, to people in Tranent if everyone in Prestonpans can secure physical appointments and they can’t.

The guidance is much clearer in England, even if the experience is largely the same.

In May, NHS England urged GPs to offer all patients face-to-face appointments if that is their preference and receptions must be open for walk-ins. Scots are not being asked what our preference is, and the result is a GP-centred service when it should be anchored around the needs of the patient.

In many cases, virtual appointments work well but not for all.

People with hearing impediments, lack of personal space and the digitally deprived have the most trouble being ‘triaged’.

Worryingly, there are numerous examples where GPs have missed the ‘soft-signs’ from online consultations.

Dr Jean Turner, former GP, MSP and director of the Scottish Patients Association, put it succinctly: “There are many patients who I could have easily made the wrong diagnosis on if I had to see them by video. You also see so much as a patient walks into a consultation room – their demeanour, colour, gait.”

East Lothian needs a plan to restore normality to our GP service. Equally, we need much better insight into the capability, performance and capacity of each GP practice.

ELHSCP needs to step back from blaming frustrated patients, stepping forward instead to engage with patient groups and local communities.

It’s time again to put patients first and open access to GP practices.

Calum Miller

Community Councillor