Folkestone: The ‘timebomb’ town where there’s one GP for every 2,500 patients
Our new ‘Postcards from the edge’ series features the towns where general practice is on the brink of collapse. Elisabeth Mahase reports on Folkestone, in south-east England
GPs in Folkestone are straining under the weight of a rapidly increasing population and facing a ticking clock.
‘Struggling is an understatement. I would say general practice in Folkestone is a time bomb,’ says local GP Dr Brighton Chireka, a partner from Manor Clinic practice.
A diminishing workforce and increasing patient list have been an ongoing problem for the coastal town.
Last year nearly 5,000 patients were left without a GP practice after the Folkestone East Family Practice handed back their contract.
They’re projecting a 20,000 population growth over the next two or three years
Dr Abhijit Banik
In response NHS South Kent Coast CCG said that they would have to be dispersed between the remaining practices, despite seven out of eight warning that they had no spare capacity and requesting to formally close their patient lists.
‘This was not well planned. We were struggling already and we were not able to recruit doctors to help us,’ Dr Chireka reflects.
Dr Abhijit Banik, a partner at Park Farm Surgery, thinks that the proximity to London is only going to make the situation worse.
‘There has been a rapid increase in population as we are a commuter town within one hour of London on the high speed rail, and this is coupled with a fall in GP numbers.
‘This means that the number of patients per doctor is quite high - 2,500 is the ratio given by our CCG,’ adds the GP who has practiced in the area for 14 years.
Dr Banik warns that this ratio is only going to increase: ‘We need a long term plan. They’re projecting in a town of 60,000, a 20,000 population growth over the next two or three years.’
We are going to collapse
However the practices are finding ways to survive. Dr Chireka says that GPs have been working with nurses, paramedics and other professionals to improve access and reduce workload.
If nothing’s done today, or even in a few months time, we are going to collapse
Dr Brighton Chireka
He explained that in his practice, they have employed a nurse to complete home visits, as well as a nurse practitioner who handles minor illnesses.
‘Gone are the days whereby general practices worked in silos. We have realised that we can’t work in silos, we have to work as a team,’ he continued.
‘The eight practices have agreed to work together and share our resources. This has been the way forward.’
Even with these adaptations, Dr Chireka is unsure how much longer the practices can hold on.
‘If nothing’s done today, or even in a few months time, we are going to collapse,’ he warns.
‘It’s unsustainable at the moment, we can’t recruit and we have patients complaining that they can’t get an appointment.’
The situation is now
But despite this, Dr Chireka, who has been practicing in Folkestone for nine years, feels that local GPs are still committed to the town.
‘There’s this passion that we feel for our patients, we have become a community. So we have to do our best to help the community, but the current situation is unsustainable,’ he says.
‘The crisis in Folkestone is not about what will happen tomorrow, or in a few years. It’s happening as we speak.
‘This is a crisis that is unfolding. People look at the GP Forward View, five years, six year, but we are saying “we may not have any practices by then”. The situation is now, it’s not about tomorrow.’