Concern over rural medical cover in Scotland

Many remote areas have struggled to find doctors willing to work out of hours

Rural communities say they are facing a crisis because many medical staff no longer have to work out of hours.

The islands of Islay and Jura are short of four GPs.

And residents of the western tip of the Ardnamurchan peninsula say they will be left without emergency medical care when changes are made to the roles of local nurses.

Doctors on the two islands have to be on-call one night in five, which is believed to be deterring applicants.

Dr Angus McTaggart has returned to Islay, where he grew up, after completing his medical training. His decision surprised his contemporaries.

Start Quote

"I came here because I wanted to go back to a more old-fashioned type of general practice”

End Quote Dr Chris Abell

"Horror was their first reaction", he said. "Colleagues maybe feel they're not equipped to deal with all the situations we have to deal with, particularly out of hours.

"The emergency department on Islay, which we cover, deals with everything from sprained fingers, to heart attacks, to car accidents."

Since the GP contract was changed in 2004, most GPs no longer have to be on call at evenings and weekends.

Over the last eight years many remote areas have struggled to find doctors willing to work out of hours.

On the West Ardnamurchan peninsula it is not doctors but nurses who are available for emergencies.

Ninety-six-year old Annie Wilkinson said her life was saved by one of them, who treated her when she fell and hit her head on a log-burning stove. She spent one hour and 40 minutes waiting for an ambulance to come from Mallaig, more than 60 miles away.

Anne Wilkinson Anne Wilkinson, 92, says her life was saved by an island nurse

"I'd given up," she said. "I never thought I'd see back here again."

However, the nurse who treated Mrs Wilkinson is retiring and changes to the contract of another local nurse means she will no longer be on call. Mrs Wilkinson describes the situation as "very, very worrying".

A group of local residents will travel to Edinburgh next week to urge the health minister to intervene.

The Scottish Ambulance Service has offered to station an ambulance technician in Kilchoan but residents say they need someone with more skills.

On Islay, residents plan to take matters into their own hands. They are going to place adverts themselves for doctors willing to take on "an island parish".

They are looking for people like Dr Chris Abell who moved to the island five years ago from England.

"I came here because I wanted to go back to a more old-fashioned type of general practice," he said.

"You feel that you're helping folk with really serious difficulties. It doesn't change the conditions but I think a lot of young doctors aren't aware of how positive an experience it can be. It can be very, very rewarding."

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