A Lochgelly community campaigner launches a petition for more GPs as figures put deprived communities in Central Fife last in Fife and Tayside

Figures for 122 GP practices in Fife and Tayside published last week showed certain Central Fife surgeries at or near the bottom for telephone access, GP availability and patient satisfaction.

James Glen, a community campaigner and former chair of Lochgelly Community Council, wants urgent action from NHS Fife, Fife Council and the Scottish Government to send more GPs and associated primary care staff into Central Fife’s most deprived communities.

Mr Glen said:

We’ve known for ages that we haven’t got enough doctors in Lochgelly. But it was still a shock to see Lochgelly Health Centre rated the lowest for patient satisfaction (at 31.3 %) for the whole of Fife and Tayside. And it’s not a problem confined to Lochgelly: surgeries in Crossgates, Cowdenbeath and Benarty also did very badly.

The whole of Scotland is affected by a shortage of GPs, but it’s hitting deprived communities in Central Fife a lot harder than more affluent places. If you live somewhere like Lochgelly, you’re not just more likely to suffer from poor health, you’ll also have a much harder job getting treated by your GP.

Residents in these communities face a downward spiral of deprivation: research shows that struggles to access GP services reinforce existing health inequalities which in turn reinforce long-standing social and economic inequalities. The gap in services between affluent and deprived areas will carry on growing unless we do something about it now.

Politicians and managers have been able to treat the problems with primary care provision as non-urgent up to now – they’ve just meant people at home getting frustrated having to wait longer for a GP appointment. But similar staff shortages in schools and hospitals are treated as an emergency. When they threaten to close hospital wards or send school children home early, resources are found to pay for agency nurses or supply teachers. The lack of GPs is a crisis and an emergency in deprived areas and requires the same urgent action.

Longer term actions, such as reorganising the division between social care and heath care, or better physical facilities, will help, but none of these will deliver fast the simple remedy that people want: to be able to speak to the surgery when they pick up the phone, and to see a doctor when they need to.

This is a wake-up call for politicians to get their act together and deal with the problem now. If we can find the money to cover shortfalls in essential staff in schools and hospitals, we can do the same for GP surgeries.

Mr Glen’s petition is addressed to the Scottish Health Secretary Shona Robison, the Executive Health Spokesperson for Fife Council Andrew Rodgers, and Allan Burns and Paul Hawkins, NHS Fife’s respective Chairman and Chief Executive.

Mr Glen added:

The political buck-passing needs to stop so the petition wants to see an emergency taskforce with a crystal-clear target: sort out the lack of GP services in Central Fife practices by getting their NHS Scotland Health and Care Experience measures for practices up to the Fife/Tayside average within 6 months.

The obvious thing to do this is to send in locum GPs and other health personnel, using temporary accommodation if necessary, until permanent and sustainable primary care at an acceptable level has been introduced.

The petition is available online at change.org and is being distributed via social media. Paper copies are also being placed in local shops and surgeries.

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