The shortage of doctors at Lerwick Health Centre is “quite shocking”, according to one councillor, who queried why the practice has had
virtually no increases in staffing for years while patient numbers have soared.
Speaking at a meeting of the special social services committee today, local councillor Amanda Westlake said that a third of Shetland’s population uses the health centre, and the pressure on GPs made for a “critical situation” which was set to get worse.
Primary care services manager Lisa Watt said the centre had seven “whole-time equivalent” GPs, most of whom are part-time. This had only increased by one doctor since 2005, and there are now 1.73 vacancies. Last time a vacancy for a GP was advertised, it took a year to fill. At
present one of the GPs is ill and another is away, and locums are being relied on.
The practice has around 9,000 permanent patients, but this number increases by between 500-800 each year with seasonal temporary residents.
This includes people from cruise ships – on Wednesday, for example, the health centre saw four temporary residents. The figure does not include residents on the barges, who have their own arrangements, (although they may go to A&E).
Ms Watt said that in 2005 the practice saw about 2,800 patients per month, whereas now there are around 4,000. This is due largely to patients with mental health problems and older people with multiple conditions “and that’s not going to change”.
However the situation may be alleviated when four new advanced nurse practitioners, able to diagnose and treat 90 per cent of ailments, are recruited.
Ms Watt also confirmed the service is speaking to the Scottish government for funding for additional early morning or evening consultation hours.
She added that the new Scalloway health centre will have capacity for 4,000 patients – currently it has 3,300 – and residents in areas such as Quarff will be offered the chance of going there to further reduce pressure on Lerwick