By RYAN TAYLOR
THE HEAVY workload for staff at Lerwick Health Centre will be eased next year when a new doctor is appointed – despite concerns from some quarters over the extra cost burden the job will create.
Members of Shetland NHS agreed to employ the full-time GP along with a practice nurse when they met at the board’s headquarters in Brevik House on Tuesday.
Medical director Dr Ken Graham said the town’s increasing population meant doctors and nurses were faced with ever-more patients on a daily basis.
He added that additional services provided by GPs, such as drugs projects, was placing further strain on already overworked doctors in the town.
“What’s happening is doctors and nurses are facing a substantial increase in their workload,” he said.
“They see up to 40 per cent more than comparable practices elsewhere in Scotland.”
The duty doctor post at the practice is regarded as a particularly onerous shift, with GPs potentially
seeing over 60 patients every working day.
The board heard that demands on the town’s health centre had risen steeply over the last three years.
In April 2005 there were 2,705 appointments, compared with 3,991 in April this year – an increase of 47.5 per cent.
But doctors have had to juggle that with a similar increase in the number of house visits they have to make.
In April 2006, 119 house calls were made compared with 157 two years later.
With the number of people registered at around 9,500 and rising, Dr Graham said GPs at the health centre had more patients than the Scottish average.
The problem is exacerbated by an increased number of elderly patients, who tend to present more complex cases and result in a significant hike in a GP’s workload.
Once patients are seen, they are increasingly put off by the high turnover of staff, which means fewer people than before are able to see the same doctor again.
The board was generally in support of the move for the new job appointments.
But the calls for the new doctor and nurse did not meet with universal approval.
New board member Keith Massey questioned how the new posts could be met within the current budget laid down for the financial year.
“Is this a knee-jerk reaction to something going wrong in the practice or is it a long term strategy?” he asked.
Chief executive Sandra Laurenson said the appointments would not affect the board’s budget for this year, as it would be the next financial year before they were made.
“We are in a sense mortgaging ourselves for next year. But we are going in with the certain knowledge we have to cover those costs,” she added.
The board also heard concerns that people in Lerwick were getting “less healthy” as the steady rise in population could not fully account for the increase in patients coming through the surgery’s doors.
Council convener Sandy Cluness said he had been personally impressed by the service at the health centre, and added something needed to be done to address the high turnover of staff.
“The situation is Lerwick is expanding and we don’t have any way of changing that,” he said.
“I’ve visited the health centre for a number of years and I’ve been very pleased with the service I have received. The difficulty for some people has been the turnover of doctors.
“When you see one doctor on one occasion and the next time he or she has left, or is on holiday, that creates difficulties for some patients.”
He added that despite his “limited and amateur assessments” he could tell the centre was “very busy”, and called for the new members of staff to be approved.