Most GP surgeries based in Scotland are due to close for eight days over the Christmas and New Year period, despite the concerns about the additional pressure it will place on A&E units.
Warnings have been issued by the College of Emergency Medicine Scotland that patients will have to wait for longer period as hospitals become overcrowded whilst GPs are on holiday.
One of the health boards on the mainland, NHS Grampian, contacted all GP surgeries to request that they consider offering some appointments over the festive period, but only one agreed to it.
A better response was received by NHS Lanarkshire, where almost one third of surgeries agreed to consult on the mornings of Saturdays December 27 and January 3, however this required a payment of £350 per day, as well as 10% per registered patient.
It has been two years since the Christmas and New Year holidays have fallen alongside a weekend, resulting in GP surgeries being closed for four days in a row, for two weeks.
According to Dr Martin McKechnie, the chair of the College of Emergency Medicine Scotland, the prediction is that out-of-hours GP services will be fully books and this will result in patients making use of the casualty department and adding to the queues. It has been revealed that in excess of 100000 patients have already experienced waits of more than fours in A&E departments during this year.
Dr McKechnie added that the quality of care being provided to patients will potentially be reduced as crowding and waiting in hospital is often linked with mortality.
He has also warned that some patients who become ill may try to wait until the re-opening of their doctor’s surgery, which could lead to a decline in their condition and this could result in them requiring hospital treatment.
A study which was done in Scotland and published last year indicated that patients who are admitted to hospital on bank holiday are at higher risk of death than those admitted other times.
According to the organiser for the trade union Unison in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area, Matt McLaughlin, they are fully aware of these consequences, but the trick is to try and ensure that only those who are in genuine need of A&E care make use of this service.
It has been confirmed by mainland health boards across the rest of the country that all GP surgeries would be closed for four days over Christmas and four days over New Year. Patients can access out-of-hours medical centres through the NHS 24 helpline, which will be fully operational. NHS 24 is expecting to handle in excess of 80000 calls over these two weekends and has recruited extra call handlers and nurses for this period.
The deputy chair of the British Medical Association’s Scottish GP Committee, Dr Andrew Buist, said patients across Scotland can be assured of medical treatment throughout this festive season.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said it has allocated additional funding to ensure that the NHS is prepared for winter and NHS boards have each received a portion of this funding to ease the winter months’ pressures, including the period over the festive season.