Plan to permanently close Highland Perthshire GP leaves locals shocked

Highland Perthshire residents have spoken of their shock over a proposal to permanently close a GP practice.

Around 120 nearby residents have signed a petition to reopen the Blair Atholl Surgery with a letter in opposition also sent to the chief executive of NHS Tayside.

The practice, operated by Atholl Medical Center in Pitlochry, runs part of its GP contract with the NHS.

The branch surgery closed back in 2020 due to the spread of COVID-19 and has remained so ever since.

Locals have harbored hopes since then that the facility would eventually reopen.

However, it has been revealed that in October 2021 the Atholl Medical Center notified Perth and Kinross Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) of its permanent closure proposal.

The center pointed to a lack of available GPs as one reason for the decision, with the center unable to recruit replacement partners following two recent retirements.

The GPs were working alone in the practice which was considered to be “unsafe working conditions”, with the facility also being deemed “not fit for current use”.

The increased workload across the Primary Care Team, which has been exacerbated by the impact of COVID-19, was also cited.

It was proposed that general medical services for Blair Atholl patients would take place seven miles away at the main surgery premises in Pitlochry.

Blair Atholl and Struan Community Council have been trying to find a way to keep the surgery open and launched the aforementioned petition.

Highland Perthshire ward councilor John Duff wrote to chief executive of NHS Tayside Professor Grant Archibald seeking clarification of the process for deciding on the future of the branch surgery.

In a response letter Jacquie Pepper, interim chief executive of the Perth and Kinross HSCP, outlined the aforementioned reasons.

Cllr Duff believes, however, that patients have not been individually informed of the intention to close the surgery and that a full and proper consultation is needed.

He said: “I understand the difficulties which the medical practice is experiencing.

“However, further consultation with the residents of the Blair Atholl area is needed before any final decision on the surgery’s future is made and I welcome the involvement of the Health and Social Care Partnership in the process.

“I know that people within the area are keen to explore possible solutions to keep the surgery open, whether in its current location, or elsewhere locally. ”

Bridge of Tilt residents John and Rhona Metcalfe, who are both registered patients at the surgery, said: “We feel incredibly let down that we were not informed via letter that we could lose this facility – we have many residents in Blair Atholl without a car and the local public transport is not frequent enough to be reliable to attend medical appointments.”

The Atholl Medical Center says it commenced an engagement process with the local community in November 2021.

Perth and Kinross HSCP will now work closely with the practice to review the consultation that has been carried out so far and consider what further engagement may be required before a report is presented to the Perth and Kinross Integration Joint Board (IJB).

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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