People power could force the delay of a crunch out of hours healthcare decision due to be taken next week.
Fife Health and Social Care Partnership is urgently considering whether to postpone controversial moves to permanently close overnight and weekend GP services in St Andrews, Glenrothes and possibly Dunfermline.
The announcement follows comments by Health Secretary Jeane Freeman that a decision next Thursday would not be possible following a last gasp community bid to get involved in the process.
Ms Freeman said she would hold further discussions with the partnership’s chief officer about the way forward.
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Glenrothes Community Forum yesterday became the second group to invoke the Community Empowerment Act by submitting a formal participation request to NHS Fife.
It came three weeks after St Andrews Community Council made a similar request asking to contribute to the redesign of community health services.
The health board is seeking legal advice and clarification on the matter.
Speaking during a debate in the Scottish Parliament, Ms Freeman said it was now unlikely a decision would be made next week.
“An exchange of information needs to take place,” she said.
“That indicates to me it is actually not possible in a week’s time and I will discuss further with the chief officer of the health and social care partnership in Fife what needs to be done and what the timescale will be.”
Fife Health and Social Care director Michael Kellet said: “Fife Health and Social Care Partnership is aware of the Cabinet Secretary’s comments and will give them urgent consideration.”
Ms Freeman’s unexpected announcement has been welcomed by North East Fife MSP Willie Rennie, who has campaigned with thousands of members of the public to keep the St Andrews service open.
“This is a helpful intervention from the health secretary that gives some clear guidance and expectation for the Fife Health and Social Care Partnership next week,” he said.
The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader added: “Some time is definitely needed to consider real options for keeping the St Andrews GP out of hours facility open.”
The service at the town’s community hospital has been earmarked for closure under the partnership’s proposals, along with services at Glenrothes Hospital and possibly Queen Margaret Hospital in Dunfermline.
Clinicians say staff shortages mean having four bases is neither safe nor sustainable in the long term.
The plan involves centralising the service at one base at Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy, or having two centres at Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline.
It has provoked a huge backlash in all the affected communities but particularly in north east Fife which has a higher than average elderly population who would face long journey times to see a doctor.