Jackie Baillie, MSP for Dumbarton Constituency, has said that there are still deep concerns surrounding the running of the Vale of Leven Out of Hours service, despite NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde chiefs claiming that all issues had now been resolved.
This follows a Freedom of Information request submitted to the health board by Jackie Baillie, asking for information on both the attendance and closure figures for out of hours services across the health board. The response to the request including figures which shows a dramatic drop in the number of people attending the Vale of Leven Out of Hours department over the course of the year.
Attendance to the department dropped from 818 in July 2019 to 81 in July 2020. Jackie Baillie says this drop in attendance is due to the service being shut so often and local people being sent by NHS24 to other areas.
Increasingly, local people are being sent to Out of Hours services further afield because NHS 24 call handlers are unsure as to whether the Vale of Leven Out of Hours service is open and the lack of communication from the health board does not help. No other Out of Hours service in the health board area has experienced such a sizeable reduction in attendees.
The service has also seen consistently high closure figures. The Vale of Leven service had the highest number of closures out of any NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Out of Hours service in the entire period – a record number of 218.
Furthermore, in March 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic was taking hold and the country was going into lockdown, the Vale of Leven Out of Hours department closed a whopping thirty-seven times. The next nearest Out of Hours department – the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley – was closed thirty-six times in the same month. This means that, at a time when travelling long distances was being actively discouraged, many local people would have been left with no choice but to travel further afield to see an Out of Hours GP.
Jackie has previously secured a commitment from the Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, that local GPs would be responsible for the organisation and running of the Vale of Leven Out of Hours service. Meetings are now starting to take place but the health board needs to make sure that sufficient resources are in place to enable a better and more consistent service in the future.
Jackie Baillie MSP said:
“The issues that this research uncovers are simply the next in a long line of health board failings when it comes to our vital Out of Hours service.
“Attendance at the Vale of Leven Out of Hours service is not down because local people aren’t in need of an out of hours GP – it is down because the service is closed more often than its open. It’s not helped either by the complete lack of communication between the health board and NHS 24 as to whether the service is available. Local people are unnecessarily being sent further afield for medical attention because no one has a clue when the Vale of Leven service is operating and at what capacity.
“It has been years since I first raised the issue of closures at the Vale Out of Hours service. Time and time again, health board chiefs have told me that these problems have been solved but the numbers speak for themselves. We have had the highest number of Out of Hours closures of any hospital in Greater Glasgow & Clyde. And that is simply not good enough.
“NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde are letting local people down and putting their health and wellbeing at risk because of its inability to maintain a functioning Out of Hours service. The sooner local GPs are in charge of organising and running the service, the better for local people.”