Extra support for Falkirk GPs to help keep surgeries open
Efforts to reduce the workload for Falkirk GPs by introducing other healthcare professionals to doctors' surgeries is helping to keep practices open.
A report looking at how specialists - such as mental health nurses, physios and pharmacists - are being used in local GPs surgeries to take some of the pressure off, shows patients are beginning to turn to them for help first.
But the report to Falkirk s Integration Joint Board also shows more needs to be done to improve access for patients and reduce GP workloads.
The Primary Care Improvement Plan (PCIP) was introduced in Forth Valley three years ago, as the pressure on doctors meant some surgeries were facing closure.
Now, 23 doctors' surgeries in Falkirk have a mental health nurse - and around 80 per cent of patients are booking in directly with them first, rather than going through their GP.
Dr David Herron, presenting the report, said: "What people are presenting with - anxiety, low mood, stresses and work-related stresses are absolutely the things that we think mental health nurses should be there for."
"Managing severe and enduring mental illness is still the role of the GP and secondary mental health care services."
There are also 16 practices with a pharmacotherapy service, while others have physiotherapists and some have advanced nurse practictioners.
"We have tried to ensure that every surgery gets something meaningful," said Dr Herron.
And the local results do show that investing money inn primary care pays off, he said.
"You get much more value for money in primary care - that's been proven nationally but locally I think we're providing evidence through the advanced physiotherapy service."
This is now proven to reduce referrals to MSK therapy and orthopaedic clinics.
The urgency for GPs meant even the pandemic didn't halt recruitment, but the plan has not been without challenges.
So far, 150 whole-time equivalent staff have been recruited - and that should be 200 by the end of the year - which has made a lack of space in many surgeries a real issue.
The biggest challenge, however, is the funding to fully deliver the quality of service that GPs want to be able to deliver.
That's part of a wider picture as funding for GPs remains at around 6 or 7 per cent of NHS funding, while the Royal College of GPs has repeatedly said that it should be at 10 or 11 per cent.
IT equipment also badly needs updated, although procurement is now underway, and recruiting and retaining GPs remains a challenge.
GPs also now need more time to work with patients with increasingly complex needs, making medical management more of a challenge.
"It's a good challenge - it's what we choose to do but it does require support," said Dr Herron.
Margo Biggs, the service users' representative on the IJB, said she was concerned that access to GPs is still often too difficult.
She said: "The main problems I am hearing from people is access and this terrible frustration they feel phoning at 8 am, then after half an hour finding no available appointments."
"The new specialisms are much to be commended but access problems have to be addressed."