GP closes Argyll surgery to patients over virus fears

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Strachur SurgeryImage source, Google
Image caption,
Strachur Surgery's patients will only be able to contact doctors via telephone

A Scottish GP has told all patients to stay away from his surgery over coronavirus fears.

Dr Robert Coull said appointments at Strachur Medical Practice in Argyll would now be telephone-only to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

The doctor said prescriptions dispensed by the remote surgery would be handed over via a window.

He also advised that medication should be left in the car for several hours before opening.

Patients were informed via social media that the surgery was closed to all patients on Friday afternoon.

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When asked to explain the decision, Dr Coull posted: "Strachur has very specific circumstances. We are the only health care providers in a remote area servicing a very elderly population, so we are at the extreme end of the scale of risk to patients if we have a patient turn up in the practice with Covid-19 as they would have nowhere else to go."

He said that by telephone triaging all patients before allowing them into the building, the medical team could minimise the risk to patients, keep the waiting room mostly empty and be able to clean the areas between patients.

Image caption,
Dr Coull said there were "very specific circumstances" at his Argyll surgery

Dr Coull told BBC news: "We have a very high age population, we are in the 96th percentile for age and we also have a very high level of chronic diseases.

"It's quite an older village and we are the only practice in the village so if anything happened to us there would be no other services. The nearest people would be half an hour away."

Dr Coull said that the biggest threat to the practice would be if a suspected case walked into the surgery and led to its closure while it was investigated.

He added: "We have decided to increase telephone and video consultations. We are going to have the doors locked initially and only bring people in by invitation, spread out the appointments over a period of time and clean the room between patients.

Explaining his advice on dispensing, he said medical staff were at high risk of infection themselves and could inadvertently spread the disease when handing out medication.

He went on to suggest patients leave the medicines for several hours before handling them.

The current Covid-19 primary care guidelines issued by the Scottish government include instructions for how to deal with cases which present at a GP surgery and over the telephone, but do not as yet recommend closing GP surgeries.

A spokeswoman for Argyll and Bute health and social care partnership said: "We work very closely with our GP colleagues across Argyll and Bute. GPs are independent practitioners and this particular practice has taken a clinical decision to see the majority of their patients by telephone consultation rather than face to face.

"We do not expect any GP or primary care staff member to assess and test patients with suspected Covid-19 therefore there is no requirement for the full personal protection equipment that our secondary care clinical staff require for testing.

"Surgical face masks have however been distributed to GPs for use in the event that contact with a patient is unavoidable."

The Scottish government said two of the new Covid-19 cases were in Fife, with one each in the Grampian, Forth Valley and Lothian health board areas.

The first Scottish case of the virus was confirmed in Tayside on Sunday.

Coronavirus in Scotland. .  .

No cases have been confirmed in the NHS Highland area, where Strachur Medical Practice is located.

Similar announcements have been made by surgeries in London and Cumbria but it appears to be the first Scottish practice to go telephone-only.

The country's chief medical officer has warned there could be a "rapid rise" in the number of cases in the coming days.

Dr Catherine Calderwood said Scotland remained "very much" in the containment phase of its response to the outbreak, and urged people to continue to follow basic hygiene advice and - crucially - wash their hands for 20 seconds.