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Another GP practice to close in crisis town after CCG ‘forced allocation’ on them

A practice in the crisis town of Folkestone in Kent has announced it will shut after the local CCG refused to let it close its list and the surgery was unable to cope with the extra demand from the ‘forced allocation’ of patients.

Park Farm Surgery, run by sole GP partner Dr Neil Banik, will shut its doors on 31 March, with its 3,000-strong patient list due to be dispersed to other Folkestone practices, according to commissioners.

The Kent town has been hard hit by closures over the last few years after another practice was forced to shut less than three years ago following recruitment struggles.

At the time, Park Farm Surgery and the six other practices in the town all applied to NHS South Kent Coast CCG to stop new patients from registering, saying they were ‘unable to take on more patients safely’.

However the CCG has confirmed that no practices in the town currently have closed lists.

The surgery’s practice manager Piyali Banik told Pulse the practice was unable to cope after commissioners refused its request and it couldn’t hire enough locum GPs to cover the extra work created by the 300 additional patients it absorbed.

She said‘Even though we tried to close our list, it was a forced allocation in the end so we got almost 300 extra patients. That doesn’t look like much but actually it is 10% of our load.

‘Our locum doctors and our nurses couldn’t cope, so one by one they left. It’s not that we really wanted to do this, but we were more or less cornered.’

She added that primary care networks (PCNs) had not eased pressure as they had hoped because of the extra services – such as extended hours and improved access – now coming under the remit of PCNs.

She said: ‘That means a single-handed doctor has to work Monday to Monday, including the weekend. It’s really not feasible and we don’t have the extra funding to employ a parallel doctor.

‘For the last couple of years we have struggled. We were surviving but now we’re in the position that from April we really can’t.’

She added: ‘Bigger practices are also struggling in our local area. If these things keep happening, probably sooner or later they will also have to close their practices.

‘It’s a domino effect. If all the practices are getting too much pressure, the whole cycle goes again and again.’

In a statement the CCG said it has ‘no control’ over whether a GP practice decides to shut and that it is ‘committed to making sure that all patients will be able to register with a local practice that covers their home address before the surgery closes’.

In 2018, Dr Banik warned that the London commuter town was expected to see a population growth of 20,000 in the next two years – up from 60,000 – and that practices would struggle to cope.

Practices in the town had agreed to work together and share resources, as well as employing other healthcare professionals, such as nurses and paramedics, to help cope with patient demand.

However, local GPs told Pulse that the situation was unsustainable and a ‘time bomb’ waiting to happen, saying the remaining practices would ‘collapse’ if nothing was done to support them.

Prior to their warnings, in November 2017 Folkestone East Family Practice was closed after a major recruitment campaign did not result in a single application.

Commenting on Park Farm Surgery’s decision to close this March, a spokesperson for NHS South Kent CCG said: ‘The CCG has worked hard to learn from the situation in 2017 and provided support to all GP practices. We appreciate that Dr Banik has reasons for his decision to close his surgery but the CCG has a duty to make sure patients have access to a GP. 

‘We are now working hard to make sure that all of Dr Banik’s patients can register at a local surgery.’

Last year, it emerged that all practices in the nearby Kent town of Ramsgate were restricting new patient registrations by ‘list managing’ rather than applying for formal list closure.

The five practices redirected new patients to NHS Thanet CCG after raising concerns about patient safety, with commissioners admitting GP recruitment was a ‘significant challenge’ in the region.