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‘Financially crippled’ practice forced to close after single-handed GP hands back contract

A single-handed Welsh GP practice will close next week with the departure of its sole doctor, who says a lack of support from local health bosses forced him to hand back his contract.

Dr Jonathan Price-Jones told Pulse that the pressures of work combined with the ‘financially crippling’ consequences of the 2004 GP contract left him no other option but to resign from the Oxford Street Surgery in Aberaeron, West Wales.

He said that his resignation was the ‘endgame’ for a process that began when the Hywel Dda health board failed to provide a health centre promised to the community in 1999 in return for the cutting of inpatient beds at what is now Aberaeron Cottage Hospital.

Although the beds were slashed within weeks of the deal, Dr Price-Jones said he was still waiting for the promised health centre, to which his practice had ‘100% committed’ and which was expected to incorporate his practice.

The Oxford Street Surgery will close on 31 October and its list of over 1,700 patients are to be transferred to the nearby Tanyfron surgery and practices further afield. Around 400 patients – many of whom are elderly – have been asked to re-register with practices outside Aberaeron’s boundaries, some as far as 16 miles away.

Dr Price-Jones, 52, told Pulse he was not retiring, but planned to take six weeks off after the closure before making a decision about his next steps.

He added that he had since met privately with members of the health board, but described the meeting as ‘a complete waste of time’.

He said: ‘I didn’t feel I had any option but to resign – I’ve waited 15 years for them to build this centre, and it’s not been an option to bring in another salaried GP. We’re a small, rural practice, and the only change in the 2004 contract that helped me was the fact that you could opt out of out-of hours.

‘Financially, the practice has been crippled – had we built the health centre, we would have been able to survive, but that coupled with the changes in the GP contract and a lack of co-operation from other local practices meant the writing was on the wall for this practice.’

A local councillor said that she had been ‘inundated’ with representations from patients who are angry about the changes, which they say were implemented without adequate consultation.

Elizabeth Evans, Lib Dem councillor for Aberaeron ward, told Pulse that the health board had failed local people by not consulting with the surgery’s patients about the closure.

She said that although the health board had written to Dr Price-Jones forbidding him to communicate with his patients about the planned closure of the surgery, managers failed to do so themselves until a very late stage.

Ms Evans added: ‘Given the scale of the GP crisis both in rural Wales and throughout the UK, and given the fact that Dr Price-Jones is such a respected GP, the way that he has been treated by Hywel Dda is disgusting. It is completely disrespectful to general practice that they can treat a doctor of such standing like that.

Representatives of the Hywel Dda health board also faced heavy criticism from local people last week during a heated exchange at a ‘Question and Answer’ session called by the health board.

Following last week’s public meeting, a spokesperson for the Hywel Dda health board said that Dr Price-Jones had decided to retire and issued the health board with three months notice.

They added: ‘We acknowledge how difficult it can be providing general medical services in rural areas, particularly for single-handed GPs who are increasingly finding it difficult to find locum support for periods of sickness and holidays. We have offered all the support we can, given contractual arrangements, to Dr Price Jones over the past year.’

Dr Phil Kloer, Hywel Dda health board’s executive director of Primary Care, Community, Mental Health and Clinical Strategy, said: ‘We are fortunate to have excellent general practices in this area and we are confident that patients will continue to receive high levels of care.

‘On behalf of the University Health Board, I would like to thank Dr Price-Jones for his service to the NHS and local community in this area. We are pleased to continue to work with Dr Price-Jones in the interim period to ensure that local people continue to receive the GP services they require.’

Pulse has identified more than 100 practices across the country at imminent risk of closure via the ‘Stop Practice Closures’ campaign is calling on GPs to support them in petitioning for urgent funding to keep practices afloat.

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