Exclusive The partners of a small GP practice are being forced to choose between taking out significant personal loans or declaring bankruptcy to cover the liabilities they have been left with after handing back an unsustainable contract.
The Studley Health Centre in Warwickshire served notice that it would be handing back its 2,000-patient contract and will close on 31 December, after several months trying to find a solution that would keep the practice open.
One of the three part-time partners, Dr Lars Grimstvedt, told Pulse that costs of winding down the business and meeting staff redundancy costs ‘will be covered by personal loans, or some advice suggests bankruptcy.’
He said the practice had tried to stay open by merging with another local practice, but their proposal had been rejected by the CCG’s primary care committee.
The news comes as Pulse has revealed that practices across the country have been left to go under while waiting on support from NHS England’s vulnerable practice fund, which GP leaders say was ‘too complex [and] too cumbersome.’
Minutes from NHS South Warwickshire CCG reflect that ‘patient satisfaction at Studley Health Centre is high’ and talks over the practice’s future began in March 2016 before the partners served notice in June.
In an extra-ordinary public meeting on 14 September the CCG set out its reasoning for not re-procuring the contract, citing doubts over whether a new supplier would be found for such a small list, and the fact that the current GPs were unlikely to stay on.
In the face of this, patients were notified on 27 September that the practice was to be closed and they would have to register with another GP locally.
Dr Grimstvedt told Pulse: ‘I am partner in a very vulnerable practice and we are having to close down as it was no longer viable.’
This was due to ‘lost income following PMS reviews’, leaving the practice ‘struggling to keep up with growing wage expenses, administrative workload and patient demand’, according to Dr Grimstvedt.
He said: ‘We are facing significant expenses in relation to redundancies and winding down of our business. This will be covered by personal loans, or some advice suggests bankruptcy.’
Dr Grimstvedt said the partners had handed back their contract only after their merger proposal was rejected.
He said: ‘We managed to find another practice keen to merge and we were advised to put in a merger proposal. This was rejected by the primary care committee. The full rationale was never told to us, as commercially sensitive. But we were told it would never be approved.’
He added that ‘no one has mentioned’ that the practice would receive ‘any of the £10million support fund’.
A spokesperson for NHS South Warwickshire CCG told Pulse that ‘bankruptcy has never been mentioned by the GP partners’, and said the practice had not been put forward for vulnerable practice support because ‘there was no indication that they were a vulnerable practice as defined through the criteria within the pilot scheme’.
The criteria, which were recently amended, were announced last December had initially focused significantly on poor CQC ratings and required practices to match funding from NHS England.
The spokesperson added: ‘During our discussions in spring 2016, the practice partners indicated they did not wish to continue to work at Studley Health Centre.
‘A merger option would therefore not secure long term continuity of GP care for Studley Health Centre patients and offered no benefit over the alternative options of re-procurement or list dispersal.’
Stop practice closures
Pulse has been campaigning for emergency funding to be made available to practices facing closure because of factors beyond their control through its Stop Practice Closures campaign.
NHS England last year launched its £10m turnaround fund for vulnerable practice, and in the GP Forward View announced a larger Practice Resilience Programme which would make £16m funding available this year.
But Pulse has revealed that practices across the country have been left to go under while waiting on support from NHS England’s vulnerable practice fund, which GP leaders say was ‘too complex [and] too cumbersome.’
And last week NHS England’s own director of primary care conceded they have not done enough for vulnerable practices and this would be a priority.