Record numbers of patients seeking appointments at Lerwick Health Centre have forced staff to start a new priority system.
With appointments running at 4,000 a month the centre is to introduce a telephone “triage” system for patients who require urgent medical attention.
Patients who cannot wait for routine appointments should phone the health centre before 11am and will receive an initial telephone consultation with a triage doctor. The doctor will assess the seriousness of the situation and work out an appropriate course of action for the patient. This could be telephone advice or could result in the patient being given an appointment either that day or at a future date.
A duty doctor will continue to deal with emergencies and house visits.
The triage system will start on Monday for a trial period. It is being introduced after feedback from patients and will replace the first-come, first-served system for same day appointments. This involved patients queuing from 8.30am and although it was not unpopular, according to practice manager John Fraser some patients had queried the system and he felt “duty bound” to investigate alternatives.
The triage system has been tried and tested in practices of a similar size to Lerwick, which has nine full-time equivalent doctors and serves 9,000 patients.
Mr Fraser said that it has been noticeable over the last five to 10 years than the demand for appointments had increased although there was nothing to suggest the health of the population was worsening.
He realised the appointment system was not based on clinical need, and, in order to make the system “even better than it already is”, the triage system will be trialled. He said of the system: “Every patient will speak to a doctor – it is important they have the comfort of a conversation with a doctor on that day.
“The doctor will make a professional clinical judgement – which could even be a referral to A & E.”
Mr Fraser said he would welcome feedback on the appointment system. “If anyone has concerns or ideas come and speak to me for the benefit of Lerwick Health Centre and the Lerwick population.”
The health centre has an on-going problem with patients not turning up for appointments, which are currently between 120 and 180 per month.
Mr Fraser said this puts unnecessary strain on resources and asked anyone who knows they cannot attend to let the health centre know through the 24 hour cancellation line.
For appointments phone (01595) 743216. For cancellations phone (01595) 743232.