NHS Fife has approved groundbreaking bids by two communities to get involved in the final decision over out-of-hours GP cover.
Participation requests by St Andrews Community Council and Glenrothes Tenants and Residents Association have been accepted by the board as work to redesign primary care emergency services in the region continues.
It was the first time NHS Fife had been asked to consider such a request, made under the Community Empowerment Act.
The decision was made as new figures revealed the kingdom’s downscaled out-of-hours service saw more patients in December than almost any other time over the past four years.
It has been welcomed by campaigners fighting to keep services local, who said the statistics added weight to the argument that facilities should be retained.
There were 6,689 visitors in December 2018, according to the latest Scottish Government data.
Only December 2017 (7,228) and January 2015 (6,694) were higher over that period.
NHS Fife chair Tricia Marwick warned the approval of the participation requests would not necessarily lead to the outcome campaigners were hoping for.
“We have to be absolutely clear it’s not about any decision that is taken,” she said.
“This is about a request to take part. This is a first for us. It may be that after this is all over, they may still be unhappy about the outcome.”
North East Fife Liberal Democrat MSP Willie Rennie, who has campaigned to keep the St Andrews service open, said he hoped the involvement of the public would be positive and engaging.
“Meaningful participation will help us work out in partnership with the Fife Health and Social Care Partnership how we can keep the St Andrews out-of-hours facility open,” he said.
“It would be illogical to close the facility when there is greater demand for the service.”
Councillor Linda Holt, deputy leader of Fife Conservatives, has also been a vocal supporter of the campaign.
She said: “Cutting services does not reduce need.”
All overnight and weekend GP cover has been centralised at Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy since April due to a shortage of staff.
Evening cover continues to be provided at four centres in St Andrews, Glenrothes, Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline.
Officers had proposed closing St Andrews and Glenrothes completely, while permanently retaining services at Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline, or just Kirkcaldy.
A final decision was postponed in December, however, after a public outcry led to calls for further consultation with communities.