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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

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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.

Commuter town

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.’

 

Readers' comments (2)

  • Just Your Average Joe

    The practices should report the CCG to CQC - they should not just disperse 5000 patients to other practices that are unable to cope with this influx of demand - as it endangers the practices and their ability to look after the patients they already have.

    Just like in the Dr BG case, extra work above and beyond a reasonable ability to cope when foisted on you, does not earn medals, but a manslaughter charge, risk of imprisonment, and after of a lifetime of effort and learning, appraisals and revalidation, stripping of your licence to practice.

    Just say no to the CCG giving these potential hand grenades to you, and force them to go to the DOH and JH and get adequate funding for primary care provision.

    As long as practices agreed to allocations, the Russian roulette of seeing who gets a GMC beheading first will continue.

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  • Just saying NO to CCG allocated patients dosn't work I'm afradid. We tried saying that several times and the direct impact on patient safety and standards of care for both our existing patients and the hundreds of new patients moving onto our books. The CCG then started a process of 'forcible allocation' which the LMC confirmed they can do and once they are allocated they become the GP's responsibility ! A sad state of affairs where we have actually lost any ability to ensure safe/effective patient care. This was then followed up by a particularly intimidating CQC inspection which they refused to defer despite the turmoil from allocations - so we are now in special measures after being rated GOOD just 18 months ago.

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