Scottish GPs pioneer telephone consultation scheme

An innovative patient access scheme by two Scottish practices that allows patients to speak directly to their GP has freed up time for doctors to see more complex cases.

Dr Peter Cairns, GP at Wester Hailes Medical Practice, said the scheme had freed up time for more complex cases.
Dr Peter Cairns, GP at Wester Hailes Medical Practice, said the scheme had freed up time for more complex cases.

The Harbours Medical Practice in Cockenzie, Lothian and Wester Hailes Medical Practice in Edinburgh are the first practices in Scotland to introduce the initiative and will continue to use the system after a successful two-month pilot.

The new service offers patients a telephone consultation with their GP rather than a face-to-face meeting.

Patients leave their details with the practice and a GP aims to call them back within one to two hours. After this call, the GP will decide in agreement with the patient what needs to happen next.

Dr Peter Cairns, GP at Wester Hailes Medical Practice, added: ‘It positively transforms access to GPs for patients. Patients are able to speak to a doctor any time between 8am and 6pm. We have also found that of those patients who need to see a GP face-to-face, 90% are seen the same day.’

He said the new system worked particularly well for busy practices: ‘There simply weren’t enough appointments. Speaking to patients over the phone means you get work done a lot quicker, leaving more time for complicated cases.'

Early results are promising, he said. ‘The new system has increased our capacity by 10-20%, and our out-of-hours consultation numbers have dropped significantly by 16%. I still see around 20 patients a day in person, which is quite a lot, but I’m also not seeing the other 20 who didn’t need to come in as we spoke to them over the phone.’

Dr Jon Turvill, a GP at The Harbours Medical Practice, said: ‘The feedback from the trial has been very positive, with the majority of patients saying the new system is as good or better than the original system.’

The Scottish government said it will await the pilot results 'with interest' and welcomed 'any initiative that benefits patients'.

Rose Garden Medical Centre in Edinburgh is set to trial the initiative next and other practices have expressed interest.

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