PATIENTS in West Fife have hit out at the introduction of an online consultation system in several GP practices believing they will disadvantage elderly people.

Inverkeithing Medical Group launched 'Online Consult' last week as a new way for people to seek help managing their health conditions and Millhill Surgery has notified patients that it will start using the system on September 1.

The changes mean that patients can submit their enquiries at any time of day for clinical advice and the surgery will get back to people during opening hours.

The system will also have links to self-care advice, videos, leaflets or what to ask for from your local chemist.

However, not everyone thinks that the technology will benefit all patients and there are particular concerns the elderly may be left behind.

A lady who attends Millhill Surgery and wished to stay anonymous told the Press: "Is this the future of health care in Scotland? Discrimination comes to mind.

"Strange as it may seem to the powers that be, not all of the population has home internet access or are confident in its use. What next: AI doctors?"

Ian Angus, another concerned local, said: "Inverkeithing Medical Practice has moved over to online medical consultation and this is a huge cause for concern as Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay have a very large elderly population who are not tech-savvy or do not have access to the internet.

"This could possibly dissuade the elderly from seeking medical attention or increase the workload onto our overstretched emergency services.

"I hope that this will be investigated before any tragedies occur due to someone's inability to use the internet."

Nethertown Surgery was the first practice in Fife to use the new appointment method back in March and now others are following suit.

With the introduction of the new Scottish GP contract, practices are evolving with new specialist staff such as pharmacists, advanced nurse practitioners, physiotherapists and mental health workers joining the team, meaning a GP might not be the most appropriate person to see.

However, some already have concerns about not being able to meet the doctor face-to-face.

Margaret Munro, who lives in Inverkeithing, contacted the Press over concerns from numerous elderly friends about virtual meetings.

She said a local pensioner had to pay £11 to a pharmacy because she couldn’t get in touch with Inverkeithing Medical Practice by phone to secure her repeat prescription.

Told that patients would now need to submit a form to get an appointment at the surgery, she said: "It's unbelievable, people should have been warned about this and we were not.

"If you have no means of going online are you just supposed to go to the hospital? It is grossly unfair."

The majority of GP practices in Fife are independent contractors and are therefore responsible for their own appointment systems.

NHS Fife medical director Dr Christopher McKenna said: “As General Practice strives to transform and redesign the way its services are prioritised and delivered, a number of practices have successfully introduced online appointment systems.

"This brings with it great benefits to patients in terms of clinical triage for those with the most urgent need as well as signposting patients to the best member of the multi-professional team to deal with their problem.

“Where a patient does not have access to the internet, a telephone option will always be offered.”