Patients in two north-east villages have been told not to call their doctor unless it is an emergency – as the surgery is so short-staffed.
An Caorann Medical Practice has branches in Portsoy and Aberchirder, but currently only has two doctors.
But although NHS Grampian is advertising for a new GP – and has a locum in place – the shortage has been exacerbated due to “unplanned leave” – prompting the practice to implement an “immediate emergency plan”.
The same-day service means doctors are only available for the highest priority cases.
Patients can call in the morning to request an appointment, but time with a GP cannot be set aside in advance.
In an information sheet provided by the health board, patients are told: “If you are a patient and do not need to see a member of the health care team that same day, please don’t call. Please only call when you are ready to see someone that same day.”
Last night, Portsoy resident Violet Richmond said the strategy means she has been waiting more than a month to a see a GP.
The 72-year-old said: “It’s a disgrace but it’s not the doctors fault here. They can only work with what they’ve got.
“I’ve lived in Portsoy all my days and I’ve never seen anything like it.”
In the extensive information sheet, patients have been advised to attend Chalmers Hospital in Banff if they have a minor injury, or to call NHS 24 on 111 out of normal hours.
Home visit arrangements remain unchanged and will be triaged on a priority basis each day.
A spokeswoman for NHS Grampian said: “Firstly, we would like to thank everyone for their patience during this challenging and complex time for the practice.
“It is appreciated that this is a worrying period for some patients but there are some things they can do to help.
“If you are a patient and do not need to see a member of the health care team that same day, please don’t call. Please only call when you are ready to see someone that same day.”
She stressed the heath board has a legal duty to ensure general medical services are available in communities.
She added the number of Scottish GPs working part-time and an increase in the number of medical students choosing to work in hospitals has made recruitment difficult.
Last night north-east Conservative MSP Peter Chapman said he has contacted NHS Grampian about the lack of cover in the villages.
“The situation at the An Caorann Medical Practice in Portsoy is causing significant concern in the local area,” Mr Chapman said.
“I have been contacted by constituents who have been unable to get an appointment for as long as a month now. This is completely unacceptable and I have written to the chief executive of NHS Grampian seeking answers to a number of questions surrounding this.”
SNP MSP for Banffshire and Buchan Stewart Stevenson acknowledged the situation was “not ideal”, but welcomed the news efforts are being made to keep the practice open.
“I have been in touch with NHS Grampian on the situation at Portsoy,” he said. “While the current arrangements are not ideal, I am pleased that efforts are being made to keep the practice operating and to provide a long-term solution for the area.
“I would also like to thank members of the public who have been understanding of the current situation and who been very accommodating while the matter is resolved.”
The two practices were controversially merged by NHS Grampian in February last year after the sole GP in Aberchirder retired.
Early proposals to change how An Caorann is run are currently being considered. The health board has previously confirmed it may stop being a “salaried practice” – one which is run by staff employed by NHS Grampian – and reopen as an independent practice contracted to offer GP services.
An early business case for the change has already been lodged with Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership for their consideration.