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NHS ‘grasps nettle’ on Lerwick GP practice

Lerwick Health Centre. Photo: Shetnews
Lerwick Health Centre. Photo: Shetland News

NEXT WEEK sees NHS Shetland launch its latest effort to tackle the difficulties patients at Lerwick Health Centre have been suffering in getting appointments quickly.

On Monday the health board will introduce a new advanced nurse practicioner service at the busy South Road practice.

Five advanced nurses will see all patients who require to be seen on the day for acute problems and minor illnesses and ailments.

In a statement NHS Shetland said advanced nurse practitioners were “experienced and highly skilled senior nurses” with clinical skills meaning they can:

  • Take a full medical history, carry out physical assessments and examinations;
  • Make a diagnosis and carry out treatment, including the prescribing of medicines;
  • Plan follow-up treatment;
  • Refer patients for investigations where appropriate.

The senior nurses will also have access to GPs for advice and support, and if they are unable to deal with certain problems will immediately refer patients to a GP.

NHS Shetland says it is an initiative initially proposed by the town health centre’s staff.

Medical director Roger Diggle, who also works as a GP in the practice, described it as “an important step for the service we provide at Lerwick Health Centre and is intended to respond to long-running concerns [within] the local community”.

Diggle said the new system would enable GPs to be more available for patients requiring a home visit and to treat those with complex or chronic health needs such as heart disease or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“This will help to create better access to services for those who need to be seen on the day, as well as for those individuals who need to be able to make a pre-booked appointment with a specific practitioner.”

Public participation forum (PPF) chairman Harold Massie said the forum had been working with NHS Shetland to implement the new service in the wake of a survey it carried out in 2013 which “showed a high level of dissatisfaction with the appointments system and in particular the walk-in clinic” at the health centre.

“A subsequent clinical audit carried out by the GPs identified that the majority of individuals who needed to be seen on the day had a condition that could be seen by an advanced nurse practicioner.”

Patients – including the elderly – have in recent years complained of at times faced waits of several hours to be seen at the oversubscribed walk-in clinics. 

But Massie said the five senior nurses’ presence “will bring many more appointments and remove the need for the walk-in clinic”.

The nurse practitioners will be led by Joan Sandison, whose team will consist of Kim Anderson, Stacey Donnelly, Vicki Schofield and Katherine Wilkinson.

Chief nurse Edna Mary Watson said the overall aim was to “enhance the service available for patients at the Lerwick Health Centre”.

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said the appointments system had “been a cause of complaints for too long”.

“People needing care have waited too long,” he told Shetland News. “More staff to make the health centre run smoothly has to be a step forward.

“I trust that people will be able to use advanced nurse practicioners for acute medical problems, illnesses and ailments every day. But GPs will still be available for people who need their advanced care.”

Scott added: “I am pleased that NHS Shetland has grasped the nettle on this long running problem and invested in key medical staff.”