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Five GP practices merge with hospital trusts to shore up their finances

Five more GP practices have been taken over by hospital trusts in two different parts of England.

Four practices in Gosport, south Hampshire, have merged to form The Willow Group, which holds a GMS contract jointly with Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust.

The practices have moved to an ’employed’ model with a number of options for existing GP partners, including being an ’employed partner’, or a salaried GP.

The practices, Brune Medical Centre, Forton Medical Centre, Stoke Road Medical Centre and Waterside Medical Centre, decided to merge because of a shortage of GPs in the area, with local GP leaders saying some of the practices would have faced closure had they not done so.

Brune Medical Centre and Forton Medical Centre first expressed an interest in being taken over by the hospital last year because the workload for GPs had left partners on the brink of ‘physical and emotional collapse’, with the other two practices joining in 2017 to bring the number of patients covered by The Willow Group to 40,000.

Dr Stuart Morgan, a GP and the group’s clinical lead, said the move addresses ‘the difficult situation we have been facing in Gosport in the past 18 months in terms of GP recruitment’.

Dr Morgan said the four practices ‘strongly believe’ the new model ‘will improve resilience to the capacity challenges we’re experiencing, and not only improve access to care for our residents, but also the range of care we can deliver.’

Dr Donal Collins, GP lead of the South Hampshire MCP vanguard, said the GP practices in the Willow Group have ‘taken the risk out of general practice’ by merging and joining the hospital.

He said: ‘They’ve got a stable platform to work from and they can concentrate on doing the job, in terms of delivering outcomes to the patients, rather than worrying about their financial future.’

He added that the practices ‘had to do something’ to avoid closure.

He said: ‘The option of doing nothing was not there, they had to do something. So one of the options was, let’s come together in one partnership and then have a partnership with a trust.’

The four practices will share back-office functions with the hospital including human resources, technology support and governance.

The local multispecialty community provider (MCP) vanguard led by the Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust initially offered all 11 practices in the town the opportunity to work under the trust, with six accepting the offer initially.

But Dr Collins told Pulse that two of the six later hired a nurse practitioner, relieving workload, and have now decided to observe the other four practices to decide at a later date whether to join the hospital trust.

He said: ‘There will probably be a period of stability for around 18 months where people will be looking to see what’s happened and seeing whether that’s a good option for them.’ 

Meanwhile, a further GP practice in Sheffield has also been taken over by the local hospital trust.

The Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust previously holds an APMS contract for five practices in the city, via its GP provider company Primary Care Sheffield, after winning a tender last year.

With the addition of Heeley Green Surgery, which has 5,000 of patients, this takes the total number of patients on its GP list to 26,500.

Dr Malcolm Savage, a GP partner at Heeley Green Surgery, said ‘joining with a larger organisation… will allow us to be more efficient as a result of drawing on their resources and expertise’.

He said: ‘We believe this is the best way we can continue to develop our practice and serve our patients in these challenging times.’

Following the takeover, Dr Savage has taken on the role as ‘lead GP’ at the practice, with all other staff remaining in place.

The trust’s chief executive, Kevan Taylor, said the hospital was ‘keen to maintain and enhance’ the practice’s work as a training practice, as well as a provider of services to care homes ‘as part of the work taking place locally to improve out-of-hospital care’.

Hospital takeovers of GP practices

Swathes of GP practices have been taken over by hospital trusts in the past year, as Pulse has reported: