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Practice hands contract back after four partners are forced to resign

Four partners in a practice in a deprived area have been forced to take the decision to resign and hand back their contract to NHS England due to problems recruiting partners.

The partners at the Circuit Lane Surgery in Southcote, Reading, said they have made the ‘extremely difficult’ decision to resign after one of the other partners retired, leaving them unable to run the practice.

The partners stressed the surgery will not close and a new provider will be found to take it over, but local residents have criticised NHS England for not informing patients and expressed concern patient care could be compromised during the tendering process.

It comes as the Government revealed last week that more than 500 practices have closed or merged in the past five years, while Pulse has reported that there are scores of practices across the UK who are considering handing their contracts back, leading to the launch of the Stop Practice Closures campaign.

A statement on the Southcote practice website reads: ‘With great regret, the partners at Circuit Lane Surgery have taken the decision to tender their resignations with NHS England and have given six months’ notice. Their contract comes to an end on 31 January 2015.  

‘Every possible option has been explored to avoid this outcome, and this decision has been extremely difficult. In the end multiple factors, including the impending retirement of partners and national problems with GP recruitment, in the face of rising workload, have left no other choice.’

Practice manager Jenny Marnock told Pulse the practice has been struggling because of difficulties replacing two full-time partners who have retired in the past 18 months.

With a further full-time partner now planning to retire in January, she said, the remaining four partners felt they could they no longer guarantee sufficient GP cover and decided to call it a day.

Ms Marnock said: ‘The partners are incredibly sad to have to do this and it was an extremely difficult decision. It is just what is happening nationally in terms of the difficulty recruiting full-time partners.’

Ms Marnock added that the practice of 10,400 patients was in a socially deprived area, with a large number of elderly patients with complex needs.

She said: ‘It’s really quite important the practice remains open because of its location and the needs of the patients, including their inability to travel elsewhere.’

NHS England is currently seeking a new provider from February 2015 and moved to reassure patients they will continue to receive high-quality primary care services.   

But local patient representative group Healthwatch Reading criticised NHS England for not informing patients, many of whom it said only heard the announcement through local media, and said ‘safeguards’ must be brought in to ensure continuity of care.

Chief executive Mandeep Kaur Sira said: ‘Healthwatch Reading’s prime concern is that patient care is not compromised during the tendering service to replace the five GPs at the surgery. Locum doctors may need to be brought in if new doctors are not in place by 1 February 2015, and we want safeguards in place to protect continuity of care, particularly for those people with long term conditions who regularly see GPs and have built up trusted relationships with their doctors.’

Ms Sira told Pulse: ‘We are also very much aware of the issues in Reading regarding GP recruitment – they do mirror the national situation in that a number of GPs in the local area are up to retirement age soon and there is this gap in recruiting new GPs. Our concern is – where will this capacity come from?’

A spokesperson for NHS England Thames Valley said: ‘The partners at the Circuit Lane Practice in Reading have tendered their resignation to NHS England. We are now exploring the options available for providing a GP service to patients after 31 January 2015, when the six month notice period ends.  

‘We would like to reassure patients that we are committed to ensuring the continuation of high quality, local GP services and we will keep patients and the wider local community informed as these options are developed.’

NHS England had previously told Pulse that any practice closures will be reprocured through APMS contracts.

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