A war of words has broken out online involving NHS Western Isles following the publication of an article by a media outlet believed to be based in the Western Isles.
On its Facebook Page, NHS Western Isles says it "wishes to clarify some of the inaccuracies in recent publicity regarding Barra GP costs."
And it says it it is important to allay any fears caused by the recent publicity stating that ‘Barra would never see a resident GP again’.
NHS Western Isles insist that they have always been and remains committed to a model with permanent medical staff on Barra.
They say their dedication to Barra and its population is further demonstrated in their commitment to the Barra Community Campus - expected to cost between £50m and £60m and bring together the redevelopment of St Brendan's Hospital and other medical services along with new schools replacing the existing Castlebay and Eoligarry schools, which, subject to Scottish Government approval, could represent the single biggest joint public investment development that the Western Isles has ever seen.
NHSWI go on: "The recruitment of permanent medical staff will go ahead in due course. However, unnecessary, unhelpful and inaccurate comments do not assist our prospects.
"The high costs quoted in the publicity for locum cover are correct and unavoidable to provide ongoing medical cover on Barra.
"NHS Western Isles has to identify this funding from our overall allocation for the Western Isles.
"Regardless of cost, we have ensured that medical provision continues on Barra."
The article quotes figures in response to a question about the cost of locum doctors covering St Brendan’s Hospital since the withdrawal of Castlebay Medical Practice. The answer for 2021-22 was £301,098.52 and for the first six months of 2022-23, £154,383.50.
NHS Western Isles say: "NHS Western Isles, at very short notice, was able to ensure continued provision of services in both the GP Practice and at St Brendan’s Hospital on Barra.
"The transition from an independent practice/business to a Health Board run practice has gone very well, which is a testament to the efforts of many staff. Patients now have improved access to appointments, with morning and afternoon clinics available every weekday.
"Patients can also now access the building to collect prescriptions or speak to staff, and we have increased the number of face-to-face and pre-bookable appointments from 296 per month to 320 per month (with a significant increase in face-to-face appointments).
"There has been no contractual dispute with the GP Practice over ‘medical cover’ at St Brendan’s Hospital, out of hours or payments for those services. The resident GP exercised his right to withdraw from Out of Hours cover, followed by Medical Cover to St. Brendan’s Hospital on Barra and finally left the GP Practice. The Health Board took over management of the Practice on 1st September. "
The present GP surgery in Castlebay
Reacting to claims in the report that no one had any idea who the doctors were that they were seeing at the surgeries, NHSWI say: "Out of the nine locums who have provided a service, five are returning practitioners (previously used by the Practice and some in fact already scheduled on the rota by the Practice) which provides a level of continuity during the transition/transfer period of the Practice. Incidentally, one of the doctors that provides cover on Barra won this year’s UK Best Doctor Award.
"Negative and derogatory comments on the culture and working conditions in the local NHS are strongly disputed. Relationships with, and between healthcare staff on Barra are far from being ‘toxic’ and have in fact become stronger over recent months, and we are confident they will continue to do so.