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22,000-patient practice forced to hand back contract over GP shortage

A 22,000-patient GP partnership in Plymouth has been forced to close its patient list, after its partners handed back their contract because of rising patient demand and a shortage of GPs.

Ocean Health partnership’s four GPs handed back their contract at the beginning of August after failed attempts over several years to fill five vacant GP positions across the partnership’s three sites.

Pulse has learned that the recruitment issues were made worse when two partners and the managing partner resigned in November 2016, triggering a planned merger with Beacon Medical Group, which then fell through in May 2017 due to further recruitment issues.

This comes after NHS England decided to close four GP practices in Plymouth last year because their ‘relatively small size’ is not a fit with the ‘national blueprint’ to work at scale.

A spokesperson for NHS England confirmed to Pulse that, despite handing back their GMS contract, all four partners will keep working at the partnership as salaried GPs. 

As a result of the partners handing back their contract, NHS England has put in place ‘immediate measures’ to manage patient demand while a new provider is found.

These measures, which come into effect from August 2, include a temporary list closure until October, with the practice only accepting immediate family members and newborn babies of existing patients, which NHS England said would ‘ease pressure’.

Ocean Health ran three sites in Plymouth: Ocean Health Centre, Collings Park Medical Centre and an acute care hub.

But a statement on the Ocean Health website said the shortage of GPs and locum cover has meant the Collings Park site will not have a GP on site everyday.

Dr Rachel Tyler, a partner at Ocean Health, said the partnership has been unable to recruit due to ‘unprecedented GP shortages’ and rising demand in the area.

She said: ‘We’ve put in a huge amount of effort to try and cope with this, but ultimately we felt it was too big a task.

‘It is not a viable prospect for a partnership of only four doctors to support a population of nearly 22,000 patients, so we were unfortunately left with no choice but to hand back our contract.’

NHS England has said a procurement process is under way to find another long-term provider to take over the practice from April 2018 and will be run in the meantime by Devon Doctors Ltd.

Dr Matt Mayer, chair of GP Survival, said: ‘A practice of this size having to hand back its contract is terrifying.

‘The relentless cuts to general practice are now meaning even large, previously stable practices are collapsing. This should be a wake-up call to the public and to the Government.’ 

Mark Procter, head of primary care for NHS England in Devon, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, said: ‘We recognise that the partners at Ocean Health have been trying for some time to recruit additional GPs and other clinicians.

‘We’ve been closely supporting them, but after significant effort from everyone at Ocean Health, they’ve decided it would be in the best interests of patients to let another provider take on the contract.’

The headline has been amended to clarify that the partners at the practice have handed back their contract. The original headline said that the practice had closed – but it had just closed its list