A WORKING group is to meet in August to explore the possibility of organising the Vale’s GP out-of-hours locally in a bid to address extensive closures affecting the service at the hospital.

The rota for the medical assessment unit is organised locally by the Integrated Care Group of GPs and it has been suggested by Dumbarton’s MSP Jackie Baillie and at public meetings with the health board earlier this year that out-of-hours should be organised in the same way to address the closures.

Calls for a locally organised service were backed last week by cabinet secretary for health and sport, Jeane Freeman, who met with Ms Baillie, GP Brian McLachlan, representatives from Hospitalwatch, the Lomond Patients Group and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde at the Vale on Friday to discuss the issues affecting the hospital.

Following the visit, which also saw Ms Freeman plant a “tree for the future” and view the hospital’s new digital radiology room, she told the Reporter: “During my visit to the Vale of Leven Hospital I was able to see the new digital scanning facility, highlighting the continuing and significant investment in the hospital. This was followed by a productive conversation with Hospitalwatch and representatives from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde board.

“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 want to thank Hospitalwatch. It’s important to hear what local people have to say and listen to their ideas. “

It is unclear at this stage who will be part of the working group, which is being organised by the health board, but Dr McLachlan, whose practice is based in Helensburgh, has expressed an interest to be involved.

Ms 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 at the Vale remains open.”

Hospitalwatch’s chairman Jim Moohan, meanwhile, described the meeting as probably the best one they have had with the Scottish Government and health board 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.

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