A HELENSBURGH GP says he and his colleagues are keen to work with health chiefs to secure a sustainable long-term future for the out-of-hours GP service at the Vale of Leven Hospital.

Dr Brian McLachlan spoke to the Advertiser after attending talks with Scotland’s health secretary Jeane Freeman, along with NHS officials and local campaigners, at the Vale on June 14.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has been asked to provide an update within two months on a sustainable future for the out-of-hours service, which has been plagued by closures over recent months because of a lack of GPs to staff the facility.

And a working group is to be set up to look at whether the Vale’s out-of-hours service could be organised locally, in a similar manner to the hospital’s medical assessment unit, which is staffed by around 20 salaried GPs from the area’s ‘integrated care group’.

READ MORE: Health secretary 'sees bright future' for Vale of Leven Hospital

Dr McLachlan said: “The GP out-of-hours service at the Vale of Leven Hospital is a core, essential service which must be delivered locally.

“We, as a local GP community, are keen to work with the health board to try and find a long-term, sustainable, quality solution.

“At Friday’s meeting the health board’s officials gave assurances that they are taking steps to recruit out-of-hours staff.

“Without this service, patient care will suffer – especially for the most vulnerable patients – and the loss of the service would put the whole hospital’s future under significant threat.

“The current level of closures is unacceptable and unsafe and raises significant clinical governance issues.

“These are concerns that are shared by the whole of the GP community.”

READ MORE: Helensburgh's MSP slams Vale out-of-hours GP service closures

Following last week's visit to the Vale Ms Freeman said: “The board were clear that they are committed to providing a sustainable out of hours service at the Vale, and I welcome that.

“They will continue to work with local people and clinicians and I have asked them to provide me with an update on progress by the end of August.

“I also welcome the fact that NHS GGC are looking at theatre capacity across the board – including the Vale of Leven – in order to make sure resources are properly utilised.

“We want this hospital to continue to be a vibrant and busy NHS site, as it plays a central role in the provision of NHS care to the local communities.

"This year the board is being supported with additional investment of £55.6 million, increasing their resource budget to £2.23 billion, along with capital allocations of £37.4 million.

“We expect boards to make the best use of these resources, to ensure that patients continue to receive a high standard of care and that facilities meet the standards we expect."

READ MORE: New hospital unit 'great news' for patients at the Vale

Helensburgh’s MSP, Jackie Baillie, welcomed the cabinet secretary’s support for a locally organised approach and also called for local GPs to be included in the discussion.

She said: “Our out of hours service has suffered more closures than any other out of hours in Greater Glasgow and Clyde – more than 80 last year and 50 for the first five months of this year alone.

“Patients who are ill are being forced to travel greater and greater distances for basic health care and for many, where that simply isn’t an option, they are waiting until daytime to seek help – this could end in disaster.

“I am glad that the cabinet secretary highlighted that a locally organised model can work and is working in other parts of the country.

“The health board told us that they are going to explore this type of model for the Vale. I want them to include local GPs in that discussion so that we get a sustainable solution.

“I hope that in the meantime they will ensure that the GP out of hours [service] at the Vale remains open.”

READ MORE: Helensburgh residents set out local health priorities at public meeting

Hospitalwatch’s chairman Jim Moohan, meanwhile, described the meeting as “probably the best” they have had with government and health board officials present.

He added: “We also touched on the ambulance service. There are only three in this area and if one is called out it can be taken elsewhere for the full day, although its meant to cover West Dunbartonshire and Argyll, so there is a shortfall here.

“They took that on board and appreciated the concern the community have in the event that someone needs rushed to hospital.”