A SHORTAGE of out-of-hours doctors in the Highlands is stretching the ambulance service to the point that it is putting lives at risk, it has been claimed.
People who are unable to see a doctor or nurse are instead calling the ambulance service to take them to hospital.
Graham MacLeod, head of service at the Scottish Ambulance Service in the north-west, said his staff were coming across situations where there has been no out-of-hours care available for patients all the way from Inverness to Wick.
He said on those occasions local surgeries were closed and paramedics had to take injured people all the way to Wick Town and County Hospital or Raigmore Hospital in Inverness,
He said: “We have had some issues with regard to where the out-of-hours care was being provided from. We have seen occasions where there’s been no out-of-hours care from Inverness to Wick.
He added that Dingwall, Golspie and Invergordon were problematic, but things are more stable in Wick and Lochaber and the Badenoch area.
He said improvements had been made in Invergordon and Dingwall recently, with the introduction of nurse practitioners who were stemming the flow.
The revelation comes weeks after a senior consultant criticised the out-of-hours healthcare in Inverness, saying GPs’ reluctance to work weekends was increasing accident and emergency waiting times at Raigmore Hospital.
Gary Kerr, lead A&E clinician, said doctors’ unwillingness to work beyond their normal shift pattern was causing significant problems, with patients instead turning up at the hospital and having to wait longer for medical treatment.
NHS Highland confirmed there are problems and is meeting GPs to discuss the issue.
The situation is being made worse as a result of 18 ambulance service vacancies across the area.
Mary Scanlon, Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP, said:” It is only right to look at whether undue pressure is being put on this service.”