Battle royal over Out of Hours ‘snub’

Written by Scott Campbell.
Published at 23:55 on 19 January 2015.
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SOME of Cumbernauld’s politicians have locked horns over proposals by NHS Lanarkshire to review the current GP out-of-hours service.

The bitter dispute comes after NHS Lanarkshire launched a consultation into proposals that would alter the Primary Care Out-of-Hours service throughout Lanarkshire, on 6 January.

In a consultation running until 6 April 2015, NHS Lanarkshire is seeking views on two service models: one primary care out-of-hours centre at Douglas Street Community Health Clinic in Hamilton; or two primary care out-of-hours centres one of which would be in Airdrie Community Health Centre and the other in Douglas Street Community Health Clinic, Hamilton.

The consultation follows an extensive review of the Out Of Hours Service with a wide range of stakeholders that has taken place over the past year, with the two models being consulted upon developed with a range of patients, carers and staff who were involved in the review process. 

Accessed through the national NHS24 service 111, the Lanarkshire out-of-hours service is for urgent assessment and treatment at the evenings and weekends when GP practices are closed. The health board, however, has said that the service is facing major challenges – mostly because of a lack of GPs willing to staff the service. 

At present, patients would call the service can get an appointment at one of the out-of-hours centres in Lanarkshire – in any of the emergency departments at Wishaw General, Monklands and Hairmyres Hospitals. The two previous satellite centres at Central Health Centre, Cumbernauld, and Lanark Health Centre, however, have not been open since June 2014 given the current lack of GPs available to work in the service – a point seized upon by two local Labour politicians.

Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East’s Labour MP, Gregg McClymont claimed the proposals were the result of the SNP “letting down” people in Cumbernauld and Kilsyth due to “their continuing centralisation agenda”. 

The Labour man added: “To remove our Out of Hours service and replace it with either a centre in Hamilton or Airdrie is no use to residents here who rely on local services. Jamie Hepburn is the Minister for Health Improvement and should be speaking up for his constituents when it comes to the SNP making the final decision on the matter.”

Meanwhile, Central Scotland MSP, Mark Griffin said: “I have written to the Health Minister, asked a question in the Scottish Parliament and have challenged the Health Board on their plans in meetings.

“We are not getting the local Out of Hours service we deserve in Cumbernauld and Kilsyth. The Scottish Government have made it clear that Ministers will have final say on this issue. They should instruct the Health Board to cancel any planned changes, re-open Cumbernauld Out of Hours services and start discussions immediately with GPs to increase doctor numbers."

The issue led to heated exchanges at the latest meeting of Cumbernauld Community Forum, held last Tuesday evening (13 January) in New College Lanarkshire: Cumbernauld Campus – when the Forum announced its intention to fight the proposals, and raise potential alternatives that might better the area. 

Cumbernauld and Kilsyth SNP MSP, Jamie Hepburn has also criticised the proposals, talking of his “deep concerns” around the models being consulted upon.

The SNP man said: “I am deeply concerned by these proposals which would see vital out of hours services cut permanently and centralised away from the Cumbernauld and Kilsyth area”, adding: “The current situation is far from ideal and there was no indication given (last summer) that the removal of out of hours services from Cumbernauld was to be a permanent move.”

Stuart McDonald, the SNP’s Westminster candidate for the May 2015 General Election has also weighed into the fight, describing the public consultation on the issue as being “flawed”.

He claims that the NHS Lanarkshire consultation paper on the issue confirms that a three centre model, with three out-of-hours service centres throughout Lanarkshire, would be viable.

“There is no adequate explanation as to why Cumbernauld is being excluded,” he said.

Craig Cunningham, Head of South Lanarkshire Community Health Partnership, NHS Lanarkshire, said the proposals would “provide a safe and effective service”, pointing out that GP numbers working in out-of-hours services is the main reason for the proposed changes.

He said: “Fewer and fewer GPs are working out of hours both in Lanarkshire and in other parts of Scotland. We have reached the point where it is becoming extremely difficult to provide a safe service. Staffing is extremely unpredictable which is affecting patients who often have to wait longer to be seen.

“We have worked with a wide range of stakeholders to develop proposals that can address these challenges and allow us to provide a safe and effective service. We want to hear people’s views on the proposals to ensure we put in place the best solution for the people of Lanarkshire.”

Dr Chris Mackintosh, Associate Medical Director, NHS Lanarkshire said: “Our key aim is to provide a safe out-of-hours service for the people of Lanarkshire and the existing service model provides significant barriers to this.

“The two proposed service models would address the current challenges and ensure we could provide a service that is clinically safer for patients.

“Both Airdrie Community Health Centre and Douglas Street Community Health Clinic offer the right kind of accommodation to allow us to provide high quality GP consultations. Staff would be able to work together as a team ensuring a more flexible and safer way of working.

“These proposals would allow us to provide a more consistent service that makes the best use of staff to meet patients’ needs and ensures they are seen sooner than is currently possible.“

Craig Cunningham added: “We know that travel to the proposed locations will be a key consideration for people. Along with stakeholders, we have taken into account population flow, rurality, deprivation and workforce in identifying the most suitable locations.

“It is important to stress that the out-of-hours service is for urgent care, not emergency care. If you call NHS 24, the soonest you will be given an appointment at one of the centres is in one hour, giving people time to travel there.

“Nearly everyone who uses the service currently makes their own way there. But for those who genuinely cannot, the service can arrange transport. Home visits are also available if there is a clinical need.”

The consultation process includes eight open public meetings at a range of venues across Lanarkshire – with the Cumbernauld meeting scheduled the take place at 6:30pm on Tuesday 10 March 2015, in Cumbernauld New Town Hall – while the full consultation document and accompanying survey can be taken online, here:  www.nhslanarkshire.org.uk/involved/consultation/OOH
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