HEALTH bosses are appealing to GPs to ride to their rescue and help avert a downgrade in accident and emergency services in the region.
Emergency departments across the Lothians are facing a growing staffing crisis, with falling trainee numbers and a shortage of trained doctors leading to the prospect of fewer patients being treated at St John’s Hospital at night and instead being diverted to the Royal Infirmary. But in a bid to keep the service open a renewed appeal is being made to GPs to plug gaps left in the rota, with pay of £560 per shift on offer to those who agree to take on the 10pm to 8am roles.
NHS Lothian said GPs would be an upgrade on the current service which relies on trainees who traditionally staff the departments out of hours, with consultants on call.
The doctors already have many of the necessary skills to work in emergency wards and will be given additional training if necessary.
But after an earlier appeal attracted only one applicant, doubts were raised over whether the latest drive would prove successful.
One city GP said there was a shortage of GPs throughout the region, with around 30 locum posts currently unfilled, and that already excessive workloads meant that taking on extra out-of-hours work would be impossible for the vast majority.
He said: “Full-time GPs are doing 12-hour days five days a week. Most are already working as hard as they possibly can.
“I haven’t seen an advert for out-of-hours work in emergency departments, but if I did I wouldn’t apply. It sounds like an extraordinary amount of money, but you can’t then work the day after and the shortage of GPs means you can’t get a locum at short notice.”
Posts for GPs to work out of hours have previously been advertised but Dr Richard Williams, who works at Restalrig Park Medical Centre, told the NHS Lothian board that he was not clear about where the jobs had been listed. He added: “Anecdotally from talking to my colleagues there would have been a number willing to take up the posts.”
The health board is searching for six GPs with an interest in emergency medicine. There are around 500 GPs in Lothian.
Chief executive Tim Davison said the health board drive could afford a “99 per cent failure rate” and still grab “success from the jaws of defeat”.
NHS Lothian said it had previously advertised with the BMJ, on NHS recruitment websites and by e-mailing GPs. It is to revisit the options to consider what more it can do to reach doctors.
A shortage of staff in emergency medicine is a national issue, with less than 50 per cent of training posts filled.
Conservative MSP and shadow health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “For years NHS Lothian has bragged how casualty at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary is the busiest in the UK. So why hasn’t better forward planning taken place to ensure there are enough workers?
“The last thing the patients of the Lothians deserve is more problems at their A&E wards.”