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New bid to find GP as islanders voice fears over medical care

GREAT Cumbrae seems like an idyllic spot to live in the Firth Of Clyde.

MUCH-MISSED: Dr Jim Bryson headed the island's practice. Now he has retired and Cumbrae has no full-time doctor. Picture: Marc Turner
MUCH-MISSED: Dr Jim Bryson headed the island's practice. Now he has retired and Cumbrae has no full-time doctor. Picture: Marc Turner

However, the patience of the islanders over their continued lack of a GP is being stretched to breaking point.

It has emerged the health service is struggling to recruit a replacement for husband and wife team, doctors Jim and Elizabeth Bryson. They resigned from the practice in Millport, the island's only town, in a row that followed the loss of their dispensary service.

NHS Ayrshire and Arran has been forced to advertise again for a GP to take over the practice in Millport after three previous attempts to fill the vacancy failed.

Only two bids have so far been submitted and both were rejected as "too expensive" by the health board, which is offering a contract of £338,500 to run the practice. No applications were received the last time the vacancy was advertised, in October.

The health board has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds paying for a full-time locum and a number of out-of-hours locums to provide GP care to patients on Cumbrae since last April, when the island's three long-serving GP partners at the practice left - reportedly "in protest" at the loss of their dispensing service following the opening of a pharmacy on the island.

Extra income from the dispensary had been used by the Brysons to cover the cost of a third GP, home visits and out-of-hours care for the practice. Critics pointed out it also boosted their own incomes.

The couple warned that the arrival of a pharmacy on the island would result in a poorer service for patients, since NHS rules bar doctors in areas where pharmacies are available from operating their own in-house drug dispensary.

However, the struggle to attract a new GP to take over the practice has led to calls for a change in the law.

Jean Kerr, chairwoman of the Cumbrae Elderly Forum said losing the Brysons, who had worked in the practice for 27 years, had been particularly upsetting for older residents.

Mrs Kerr added: "What we had was a super service. It was a one-stop shop.

"When I had cancer my GP was round at my house to see me within an hour of me coming home from hospital. You don't get that kind of care elsewhere, so people on the island really do feel upset about it.

"It's not about being anti- pharmacy - but if it is going to stop us having a doctor then we don't want a pharmacy, we want a dispensary. We just want a bit of leeway for remote communities like ours. We don't want the pharmacy to close, we would just like to have both facilities."

The call is backed by local MSP Kenneth Gibson, who has said the only way to attract new GPs would be by restoring the dispensary, and by campaigners in other remote and rural communities across Scotland who say care has been compromised by the arrival of pharmacies.

The backlash against the Cumbrae pharmacy has even seen some local people organising "drug runs" for prescriptions by boat to the mainland instead of at the Cumbrae pharmacy in an attempt to run it out of business.

James Semple, vice-chairman of Community Pharmacy Scotland and the pharmacist behind the controversial launch on Cumbrae, said having phar­macies and GP dispensaries was not practical.

He said: "The pharmacy in Millport makes a tiny profit as it is - most of it goes on paying the pharmacist's salary - so you could not support both. It is naive, and it also goes against all the principles of the NHS which stipulate - for a whole host of good reasons - that doctors should not dispense as well as prescribe drugs. The GPs, although they resigned, they were retiring anyway - two of them were 60 and one was 65, so I think that is a bit of a red herring. From what I hear, people think the locum doctor is brilliant."

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