Patients of the Lanark Doctors practice have expressed discontent in the past about its appointments system, and now they face having to clear an extra hurdle before seeing a GP.
A local trial is being considered for a new system requiring that patients seeking a same-day doctor appointment first phone the NHS 24 helpline for it to judge if their condition warrants it.
Patients might be granted a GP appointment, as requested, but could be told to see a nurse or pharmacist instead.
Some might even be given advice on how to treat their condition themselves.
It is understood that this is the latest tactic being tried to overcome the nationwide shortage of GPs blamed for last year’s closure of Lanark’s Lockhart Hospital to new admissions of in-patients.
Throughout the year-long controversy over the the Lockhart, NHS Lanarkshire has consistently claimed that it simply cannot find a doctor to provide medical cover for the hospital’s mostly geriatric patients.
Even individual approaches to 600 GPs failed to find a replacement for the Biggar doctor who provided cover before giving up the post last spring.
NHS Lanarkshire has also maintained that the shortage of doctors it faces is not a local but nationwide problem.
So far, two health authorities elsewhere in Scotland, in Ayrshire and the Forth Valley, have already done trial runs of systems requiring patients to phone NHS 24 for pre-appointment assessments, and NHS Lanarkshire is now considering following suit.
An NHS 24 spokesperson said: “We are in discussion with a number of health boards to consider how our telephone triage service could be best used to support established GP practices who have been experiencing challenges to continue to deliver high-quality services for their patients.”
Chris Mackintosh, medical director for South Lanarkshire Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “As part of our Lanarkshire-wide primary care and mental health transformation programme, which aims to improve how services are delivered in communities over the coming years, we are considering a number of new ways of working that would improve the public’s access to GPs, ensuring that all patients get to the right treatment as soon as possible.
“This may include appointments with a range of health professionals including GPs, nurses, physiotherapists, and signposting to the community pharmacy.
“Where appropriate, patients will be given safe self-care advice”.
“We are speaking to NHS24 and looking at how they work with other health boards and considering how that might work for Lanarkshire.
“We currently provide information on the best route to treatment through our ‘Know Who To Turn To’ guide’, available on our website.”