THE vast majority of GP surgeries throughout north-east Scotland are to close their doors on a Saturday morning for the first time in an extension to the emergency-cover service provided by the G-Docs out-of-hours co-operative.
The move, which will affect 57 family doctor practices in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, responsible for more than 400,000 patients, will come into effect from 17 May.
A similar Saturday morning cover arrangement is already being provided in Glasgow by the city’s out-of-hours doctor service.
Dr Stuart Scott, a director of G-Docs, said the move has been prompted by the success of the out-of-hours service since it was introduced in 1996, and the launch last year of NHS24, the telephone advice centre, based in Aberdeen
He said: "When G-Docs was set up seven years ago, it was decided the service would not cover the entire out-of-hours period, and that practices would continue to provide their own emergency cover on Saturday mornings.
"Last year, the government decided to significantly increase the resources for covering general practice out-of-hours in the form of NHS24.
"At the time, G-Docs decided not to extend its out-of-hour cover, preferring to give NHS24 time to bed-in, and for patients to get used to the change.
"As NHS24 has now been running for over a year, we now feel the time is right for G-Docs and NHS24 to take over the last three hours of emergency out-of-hours cover on Saturday mornings."
Dr Scott stressed that Saturday mornings were not a particularly busy time in GP surgeries in the North East. He said: "There is no practice in Grampian, that I am aware of, that offers routine appointments on a Saturday morning.
"It is purely an emergency service - exactly the same as that offered by G-Docs - for problems that cannot wait until the surgery is open.
"It is a very quiet time and most surgeries operate with only one doctor and one receptionist."
The new arrangement will affect 32 of Aberdeen’s 34 practices. Only the Calsyseat Road practice and Skene Medical Group in Westhill will continue to open on Saturday mornings. In Aberdeenshire, 25 of the area’s 36 practices will switch to the new emergency-cover arrangement.
Under the new arrangements, patients will have to call NHS 24, or their own practice number, where a recorded message will guide them to the appropriate clinical advice.
The G-Docs service already operates between 6pm and 7am week days and from mid-day on Saturday until 7am on Monday morning.
It became Scotland’s first out-of-hours general practitioner service when it was set up in the North East seven years ago, and was seen as the model for other out-of-hours co-operatives across Scotland. More than 200 GPs each pay a monthly subscription to finance the co-operative.
Three years ago G-Docs opened the country’s first custom-built primary care resource centre, providing emergency medical, dental and nursing care under one roof, at its base in Aberdeen’s Foresterhill Road.
The 300,000 joint venture, between GPs, Grampian Health Board and Grampian Primary Care Trust, was designed to allow patients to access all these services through one phone number.
The building also houses the local Faculty of the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Primary Care Trust’s clinical governance, and the Primary Care Alliance and GP Audit teams.