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Single-handed GPs asked for ‘continuity plans’ in case of their death

Exclusive NHS England has asked GPs in Cornwall to detail their practice continuity plans in case they die, which local GPs have branded as ‘crazy’ and ‘unfair’.

In a questionnaire sent out by NHS England, single-handed GPs were asked for their continuity plans ‘in the event of death of the contract holder’.

NHS England said the form aims ‘to ensure the continuity of service provision when a contract is held by a single-handed GP’.

NHS England sent out the ‘Single Handed GP Contractor Assurance Framework’ form, which was drawn up locally by NHS England South West, to practices in Cornwall in April.

The 11-question survey, seen by Pulse, asked GPs for the number of staff working in the practice and the number of GP sessions offered each week, in addition to practice continuity plans.

The form, which it says is ‘based on national policy’, asked: ‘What are the practice business continuity plans in place in the event of death of the contract holder?’

The form references sections of the GMS and PMS contracts which state that a contract ‘must terminate at the end of the period of seven days after the death of the Contractor unless, before the end of that period,’ it has been confirmed in writing to NHS England that ‘they wish to employ or engage one or more general medical practitioners to assist in the continuation of the provision of clinical services’.

Dr Bruce Hughes, BMA GP Committee regional representative for south and west Devon, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, said: ‘While all small businesses should have contingency plans in place, and commissioners will want to ensure the continuity of future patient care should anything happen to practices, it seems unfair to single out lone partners in this way. We have taken this matter up with commissioners locally.

‘Across the South West there are a number of practices on the brink, but these are not necessarily run by single-handed partners. NHS England needs to work alongside LMCs and CCGs to address the wider crisis facing general practice.’

A single-handed GP in Cornwall, who asked to remain anonymous, told Pulse: ‘It seems pretty crazy that I have to answer what plans to make for the practice if I was say to be killed in a car crash. I feel this is a very unfair thing to ask and very difficult to answer.’

But an NHS England South spokesperson said: ‘Our duty is to make sure patients continue to have access to primary care.

‘Single-handed practices can be particularly vulnerable to events, so it’s in everyone’s interests to make sure robust continuity plans are in place for all eventualities.’

A letter, sent to GPs alongside the form, added: ‘Our aim is to develop a consistent picture of each practice and to deal with similar contractors in a consistent way. 

‘Once the form has been returned the information will be reviewed, within NHS England and your CCG. For some practices, there may need to follow up and discuss future plans, but if this is the case you will be contacted to arrange a mutually convenient time.’

Pulse previously reported that one-fifth of practices in Plymouth have either closed or handed back their contract in the past three years, leaving 34,000 patients without a fixed GP, and putting pressure on neighbouring practices.

And a Pulse investigation last week revealed that 450 GP surgeries have closed in the last five years, displacing 1.3m patients.

NHS England has previously been accused of failing to preserve distressed practices if they had fewer than 4,000 patients.