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Soho GP practice targeted by CQC after losing all Chinese-speaking GPs

A team of CQC inspectors has made an unannounced visit to a GP practice in Soho, central London, after complaints that non-English speaking patients were receiving sub-standard care.

Chinese patients, who make up a third of the 5,200 patients registered at the Soho Square General Practice, have been turned away following the departure of both Chinese-speaking practice partners, as well as 'all other experienced staff, at all levels'.

In a letter sent to NHS Central London CCG (CLCCG) from the Soho Society, which is representing patients, chair Tim Lord said: 'The loss from the practice of Chinese speaking staff has caused anxiety and frustration with the result that, on several occasions, patients presenting at the practice have been turned away because there has been no clinician available to treat them.'

He said that many of the patients were elderly, speak little or no English and were anxious about travelling long distances to other GP practices.

Patients were now being asked to speak to an interpreter over the phone during appointments, he added.

The letter also said both practice partners, Dr Louis Brassey and Dr Stephen Cheung, both Chinese or Mandarin speakers, left the surgery following disputes over proposed changes to working practices, having served the community for more than 12 years.

The practice, which was originally set up 20 years ago to serve the Chinatown community, was taken over by Yorkshire-based private operators Living Care Medical Services in August 2016.

Living Care wrote to patients shortly after they took over proposing a raft of changes on the grounds that the surgery was ‘not financially viable’ in its current form.

These included changes to the way GPs worked, upskilling nurses and centralising administrative duties. The company also proposed introducing a telephone triage system, and doing away with a morning walk-in clinic.

A spokesperson for CLCCG said meetings had been held with Living Care, NHS England and HealthWatch, as well as with the Patient Participation Group in a bid to address the issues.

She said: 'We continue to monitor the situation at the practice and work closely with the provider Living Care.

'We understand there are specific requirements unique to this population and translation and interpreter services are in place where needed to ensure patients can continue to access health care at the Soho practice, consistent with other GP practices in central London.'

She added that a number of steps had already been taken, which included the appointment of a new clinical staff, an operational manager, a new assistant practice manager and a healthcare assistant.

In addition to this, she said, Living Care had also notified patients that any proposed changes to the way the practice is staffed will be paused subject to a consultation exercise with patients which will begin this month.

A spokesperson for the CQC confirmed that an inspection of Soho Square General Practice took place on Thursday 10 May and a report would be published in due course.

Luke Minshall, responsible officer for Living Care, said: 'Living Care Medical Services support the statement made by the Central London CCG. We are working with the Central London CCG to improve our services for the patients we serve.'

Readers' comments (17)

  • shameful !!

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  • Wow! A private company performs less well than the partnership model.
    Who would have thought it?

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  • Took Early Retirement

    that's privatization for you!

    Mind you, I have some sympathy with a T-shirt I saw for sale in the USA c four years ago. It would no doubt be illegal here: it said, "Welcome to the USA: now speak English"!

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  • But surely Living Care had the best bid? Is this article suggesting that being good at bidding isn’t the same as being good at providing the service? I am shocked!

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  • Unless the contract had specific requirement to provide chinese speaking staff, I can't see how they are substandard.

    Most GP practices in my area use telephone intepretation service, they don't have polish/latvian (our main non english speaking population) speaking staff, and all the changes such as telephone triage mentioned above is quite the norm.

    It looks like the population benefitted from having above average service due to having non commissioned language experts in the practice and now they've come down to average service having lost them. May be it's time commissioners pulled their fingers out and paid for the service which they had free for many years?

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  • unless they receive additional funding to provide a translation service to the local population, so what - it should be the responsibility of the patient to attend with an appropriate translator, and to pay for the additional time required, if they do not speak English.

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  • maybe CQC should speak Chinese on their next visit , they certainly spoke a language I couldn't understand when they visited us recently

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  • Let common sense prevail

    Would I expect to be able to travel to any country in the world, attend a medical facility, and be spoken to in my own language?
    Just saying.

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  • They could of course learn English, I mean what with living in England and using the English NHS. It's a great language --- I mean Abba sings in English

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  • My guess is that the original Chinese speaking GPs have gone private. There are now numerous private GP services in Soho. This applies to the whole of ‘central’ London. It also applies to most ‘central’ large English cities. Many of these services provide routine telephone/video access in addition to face to face consultations and visits. This trend will continue becoming more common elsewhere in the UK as traditional NHS GP care becomes increasingly untenable for all the obvious reasons.

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  • Vinci Ho

    Obviously without all details, one has to be open mi fed on this subject. As as a Chinese-speaking GP , my view is :
    (1) This is UK , the first language of communication is English, full stop.
    (2) If the patient cannot speak English at all , it is not their ‘fault’ . Services to help them to communicate must be adequately funded . By all means , language line is available but I am not totally convinced that it is living up to expectations. CCG and NHSE cannot say they have no responsibilities on resources providing.
    (3) CQC cannot and should not prosecute a practice merely because they have not got any GP who is capable of speaking a language other than English . That is not substandard care as far as the practice is concerned.

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  • Vinci Ho

    open minded

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  • mmmh .. face to face interpreters is a norm ;appt lasting 20 mins/ got a few patients needing sign language polish,slovakia,asian,afghan/ no braile yet..interesting csa being a communication exam would this be an area to be tested..

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  • Unless funding is increased and we can keep the partnership model this will happen to practices up and down the country

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  • Financially unviable practice, private takeover, loss of staff, CQC meddling - says it all about the sorry state of UK general practice!

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  • The deep rooted problem of this issue seems to be from mismanagement from the provider The radical restructuring without having adequate resources in place to implement theses changes have left an exodus out of previously long serving staff who have become unhappy.
    It is no coincidence the practice which was a highly regarded practice with high ratings of patient satisfaction has now recently become one with high patient complaints and dissatisfaction,ever since this provider took over. This provider does not seemed to concerned with staff wellbeing or listening to patients in order to meet their health care needs, instead they only have interest in balancing their books. From their recent NHS choices comments the problems at the practice extend much more than not catering for the local Chinese community.

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  • So many issues. Agree with Vinci Ho and all others. Strikes me that the playing field is not close to level. A small long standing struggling practice does not get support, but gets a CQC inspection. Babylon select 20,000 healthy subjects from 40,000 'applicants' and is seen as innovative. For the same behavior a private politically backed Babylon wins praise. The next step for the small practice surely must be to stop the recruitment of a GP and to hire a lobbyist and a PR consultant to sell this as giving patients choice.

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