Paramedics are set to help under-pressure GPs by taking on house visits under radical plans by health chiefs in Edinburgh.
The emergency responders are set to start a full trial of the service next month following a pilot scheme and could cover all appropriate afternoon unscheduled house calls in the city by April next year.
Deploying paramedics to carry out house calls is one of a dozen proposals in the Edinburgh Health and Social Care Partnership’s Primary Care Improvement Plan, which has been sent to the Scottish Government for approval.
At least two GP practices in Edinburgh are already using paramedics for some house calls.
House calls are not routinely counted or reported by health officials and can vary widely per practice. It is estimated about 500 house calls are made each weekday across Edinburgh.
The new Scotland GP contract, which came into force in April, included reducing GP workload through the expansion of the “primary care multidisciplinary team”.
Judith Proctor, chief officer of Edinburgh Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “The partnership’s Primary Care Improvement Plan ... is an ambitious redesign of primary care services.
“We see this as the next stage in improving primary care for everyone.
“New models of home visiting for those people unable to get to a primary care centre include appropriately trained and supported paramedics undertaking initial triage in a model fully supported by doctors based back at the practice.
“This enables us to visit people at home, as well as supports GPs seeing patients in the practice.”
GP practices in Edinburgh have been under increased pressure since 2014. Around 20 of the city’s 72 GP practices have needed “additional support and attention” in order to provide services to registered patients. More than 40 practices in Edinburgh have restrictions on their patient lists.
The primary care plan claims “a series of once-stable independent GP practices are no longer able to function without additional support”.
In order to carry out house calls, around 15 paramedics in Edinburgh have undertaken additional specialist training. Another 15 will undergo the skills programme by the end of this year.
“Some house calls relate to lack of transport. Providing that would also maximise cost-effectiveness.”
The Scottish Ambulance Service welcomed the move, following the successful pilot scheme, as did GP leaders, who believe the idea could help ease doctors’ workload.
Dr Andrew Buist, deputy chairman of the BMA’s Scottish GP committee, said: “The new GP contract in Scotland aims to reduce workload pressures and re-establish general practice as an attractive career choice.”