THERE is cautious optimism in Valleyfield as imminent changes are set to be made at the village's under-pressure GP surgery.

Residents have spent months raising issues with the service, which has also faced ongoing staffing issues meaning patients were unable to book advanced appointments.

As reported previously by the Press, community campaigners secured a meeting with health officials, while in June less than 15 per cent of calls to the office were being answered, and villagers were fearing that it would take a death before the issues were addressed.

The community council has now received news of changes to the phone lines at the practice, and while they stress these are not a solution, they may be an indication of one to come.

They say that a small queuing system will be introduced to improve accessibility, which will hold three people being replaced every two or three minutes as calls are answered.

Anyone who is not in this line will receive an engaged tone.

The community council say there will also be two dedicated staff members answering the phone between peak times of 8am and 10am, with the option of creating a dedicated call-handling room.

Until now, patients have faced an 8am 'free-for-all' which has seen those with non-urgent medical issues being put to the back of the queue.

According to Valleyfield Community Council, senior management have been looking to identify if additional staffing might be needed and would look to hire on a fixed term basis.

The initiative is to be kept under weekly review and could be changed if there are signs of improvement.

They further added: "It might take a little while but it is encouraging that, finally, these first attempts at improvements are being attempted.

"Can I ask people to let me know of their own experiences over the next couple of weeks so I can pass this on if it is making a difference.

"The ongoing difficulties with GP staffing at the surgery are still being pursued on a number of fronts and I know changes to the phone system will not help that, but, hopefully, we will begin to see some improvements to the service provided overall as a result of these changes.

"As always, can everyone please ensure they are kind and understanding with all staff members at the surgery who are doing their best in what we all know are difficult circumstances."

Councillor Graeme Downie, Scottish Labour councillor for West Fife & Coastal Villages, has been pushing for more to be done and says there has been a "cautiously positive" reaction in the community.

He confirmed that the queuing system would be put in place imminently, if they were not already in force.

He said: "These changes to improve the phone system at Valleyfield GP Practice are a step in the right direction and a result of hard campaigning by people in all of the villages affected.

"The people I have spoken to locally have been cautiously positive about the changes but they want to see the results on the ground before they get too optimistic.

"The longer-term issue of GP shortages still remains but if these changes are implemented and people see improvements to the service they receive, it could go a long way to rebuilding the confidence of the community in both the practice and the health service more widely."