Leader: A lifeline for desperate patients and GPs

The pressures on the health service are clear to most of us, and a visit to the GP can often underscore the headlines we see in the news. First of all, it can be a long wait to get an appointment, and then when at the surgery, there may be a further wait beyond the allocated time because the GP has fallen behind schedule, and the eventual consultation is squeezed into ten minutes.

Community links practitioner Colette Mason at Possilpark Health Centre. Picture: John Devlin

This is a difficult situation for the patient, and it is easy to forget that it is just as unsatisfactory for the GP, who feels the same duty of care for every person who walks through the door, but may not have the time to deal adequately with the conditions presented. We have a high degree of expectation when it comes to seeking help from the doctor, and yet that person in whom we invest so much confidence may be fire-fighting by the time we get there. The pilot project highlighted in our Insight pages today, where community links practitioners bridge the gap between patient and GP in some of Scotland’s most deprived areas, is a beacon of hope for those who feel that, if their GP can’t help, they have no-one to turn to.

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The scheme recognises there are underlying social problems behind many medical conditions, and while the GP might treat the symptom, the cause goes unattended, and the symptom will re-present. A lot of money is spent getting the patient no further forward.

The links practitioners are providing vital support to those who need it most, and the effects appear to be positive. They do not and cannot have all the answers, but they can help patients access the services that are available but often out of reach. The scheme is under assessment, and it is encouraging that the Scottish Government is committed to recruiting 250 more practitioners.

The level of service provided by NHS Scotland is under regular attack, but this initiative is a direct attempt to take the strain off services that are buckling, and deserves credit. Its expansion will surely benefit the most vulnerable, but if it takes pressure off GPs, it will also help all of us.