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Crisis town GP surgery forced to stop offering appointments for one week

A crisis town GP surgery, which is seeking permanent closure, will have no appointments for five days next week due to staffing issues.

Alyn Family Doctors in Wrexham, North Wales, will close its Gresford Health Centre branch to patients from 17-21 February.

A statement on the practice website said this was due to ‘staffing circumstances beyond our control’.

Wrexham has faced multiple threats of practice closures in recent years due to growing GP shortages.

The news comes two years after the practice’s application to close its Gresford branch was declined by the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board.

This is not the first time the practice has been forced to stop accepting patients at the branch. It closed for 12 days through July and August last year after having formally objected to ‘unmanageable’ new housing developments‘ which meant it could not ensure safe staffing.

The practice,  which also operates from the Llay Health Centre and Rossett Surgery in Wrexham, is now planning to submit a new application to close down the Gresford branch surgery.

The Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board said it is ‘aware of the challenges’ that the practice is facing.

A spokesperson said: ‘The practice has informed us of the reasons for the temporary closure of its Gresford Health Centre and its intention to progress with a second application for approval to permanently close this branch.

‘The practice has progressed a patient engagement group over recent months and the health board has advised the practice to carry out wider engagement with patients so they can better understand and mitigate any problems this potential closure may cause, prior to re-submission of their application.’

A statement from Alyn Family Doctors said: ‘Due to staffing circumstances beyond our control and to ensure that we can offer a safe service to our patients, we are not able to offer appointments in Gresford Health Centre from 17 February 2020 to 21 February 2020.’

Alyn Family Doctors’ Llay and Rossett branches will be open as usual and patients with booked appointments at Gresford will be transferred to ‘an alternative health centre’ or moved to a different day at the Gresford branch, it said.

Practice manager John Williams told Pulse: ‘We’re a single practice over three sites and operating a safe, effective and resilient service over three sites is extremely difficult. We have to spread ourselves quite thinly and it makes us very vulnerable to even small changes in our staffing levels, as next week shows.’

He added that the practice remains concerned about the level of new development, which may add ‘considerably’ to its list size.

Alyn Family Doctors, which is run by nine GP partners, currently serves just under 13,000 patients but fears that up to 1,000 more patients could be added to its list once the new homes open for occupation in April.

Mr Williams said that the practice is working with the health board to ensure its sustainability and plans to ask the board to provide support in the form of a new health centre.

North Wales LMC chair Dr Sara Bodey told Pulse that although North Wales has struggled with GP recruitment, it’s ‘not all doom and gloom anymore’.

One practice in the Wrexham area that had previously been taken over by the health board is returning to a GMS contract while two others are ‘earmarked’ to follow suit, she said.

She added that the increase in GP trainees allocated to North Wales and the first intake of Cardiff medical students based in Bangor starting this academic year were positive in the long-term, but that practices needed ‘support’ from the local structures around them in the short-term.

She said: ‘There has to be a recognition that we’ve reached saturation point in general practice and if we are given more and more, there’s just no capacity.

‘We’ve got to be realistic about surviving this time before the measures that have been introduced do start to bear fruit. Hopefully things will be better in the future if we can get through the next few years while those changes are bedding in.’