The people of St Andrews and neighbouring areas are continuing to fight against the reduction of Primary Care Emergency Services (known as out of hours services) at St Andrews Community Hospital. The reduction of the services is due to “contingency measures” by Fife Health & Social Care Partnership in reaction to the lack of national shortages of GP staff, especially in overtime work. Currently, if anyone from St Andrews and the local surrounding communities requires medical attention between the hours of 12 AM until 8 AM they will have to travel to The Victoria Hospital in Kirkcady.
This is an issue for many St Andrews residence due to it being further away than St Andrews Community Hospital (around 45 minutes), meaning a longer wait for medical issues to be seen to and a higher cost for the patient if they don’t have a car. With the St Andrews population having a high percentage of those relying on public transport whether that be students or the elderly, and public buses not running throughout the early hours of the morning, most would have to pay for Taxis. One of the main arguments against the out of hours closure has been that no one should have to be required to pay a large sum to get to receive medical care, no matter what time of day, with the return taxi trip to Kirkcady costing over one hundred pounds throughout the night/early morning.
A petition to re-open the services within St Andrews has been led by local Liberal Democrats MSP Willie Rennie responsible for the constituency of North East Fife. The petition had gained over five thousand signatures ranging from university students and staff to local members of the community. In a comments section of the petition a supporter had written:
“We have used the service in St Andrews on several occasions for critical assessment/care and the health outcomes for family members without it would have been very different. This is a very scary proposal and I urge decision makers to think again.”.
Mr Rennie has heavily campaigned for the cause and has held numerous meetings with the Fife Health & Social Care Partnership, some of which including over 250 members of St Andrews and surrounding community, all opposing the closures. On Tuesday 23rd December, the issue was discussed in a member debate in Holyrood with Mr Rennie appealing to the Health Minister to intervene if the Health & Social Partnership continue to ignore the complaints of the community. He said in his argument,
“If a service is going to be cut it is going to be cut in east fife first and that is not acceptable.”
As this was a members debate, the Health Minister was not available to respond to this comment.
The Rector Srdja Popovic has also worked closely with Mr Rennie in supporting the petition on behalf of St Andrews students and was quoted in The Courier saying
“I wish there wasn’t a need for this campaign, but the reason this galvanised the community to this extent is because the consequences are so serious”.
Other members of the university community have also came forward opposing the closures. Principal Sally Mapstone addressed the serious consequences of the closures in a letter addressed to Clinical director Dr Alan McGovern, emphasising the importance of the out of hours for the St Andrews student community which makes up nearly half of St Andrews population. She said,
“The alternative to the MIU, Kirkcaldy’s Victoria Hospital, is simply inaccessible for most students faced with an emergency at night: there is a total absence of adequate public transport; the university’s Wardennial and Security staff cannot provide transport, as their duties require them to remain in St Andrews; and most taxi companies do not operate after midnight (and in any case, no taxi driver is happy to transport an ill or injured person if there is any chance of body fluids causing damage to the vehicle).”
Originally the closure was a meant to be a temporary measure from April 2018 until June 2018, but the period was extended a further six months. Now at the end of January 2019 there will be a further review. Michael Kellet, Director of Fife Health and Social Care Partnership stated that:
“The on-going challenges we face have left us with no other option but to extend the contingency measures to ensure patient safety. We have taken and will continue to take every step available to us to try and resume services. This includes advertising to recruit Nursing and GP staff and working with GP leads to encourage our existing workforce to support the service wherever possible.”
For now, members of the St Andrews community and surrounding area will have to wait to see if there petitions against the closures will be listened to and acted upon by the Fife Health & Social Care Partnership and if there is a capacity of staff to do so.