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GP practice forced to close its branch surgeries

A GP practice is being forced to shut down two of its branch surgeries because of recruitment problems, in a move the LMC has warned could prove ‘extremely destabilising’ for GPs and patients.

Two surgeries in Herefordshire are set to close in a matter of months after NHS England said the practices are ‘no longer possible to maintain’ because of recruitment issues.

Meanwhile a practice in Scunthorpe is set to close in October when the two partners retire, and NHS England has announced nine practices across Teesside and Hartlepool could close when their APMS contracts expire at the end of the year or in early 2015.

It comes as Pulse has launched its campaign to Stop Practice Closures after revealing that more than 100 practices across the UK had either closed or were actively considering closing, as a result of funding cuts and a recruitment crisis.

In Herefordshire, the practices affected are both branches of the Kington Medical Practice – Eardisley and Pembridge practices.

The local area team says that Kington will be able to take on their branches’ patients but Dr Richard Dales, medical secretary at Herefordshire LMC and a GP at the neighbouring Croase Orchard surgery, told Pulse that he still had concerns about the impact of the closures.

Dr Dales said: ‘Kington straddles the border with Wales and we’ve got problems on both sides – I’m one of the practices next door and we’ve not got great capacity.

‘If there was suddenly a large change in numbers of patients it would be extremely destabilising, both for practices on the English side and for our colleagues in Powys – they have also had problems with recruitment so I would be surprised if they had capacity for large numbers.So we’re all very keen to try to ensure this practice remains viable.’

Dr Dales stressed the problems faced by Kington were part of the wider crisis in recruitment and retention of GPs. ‘It’s part of the nationwide crisis – and the reality is this probably needs a nationwide solution,’ he said.

Sue Price, director of commissioning at Arden, Herefordshire and Worcestershire area team, said: ‘Recently, we have been working closely with Kington Medical Practice and Herefordshire CCG after issues were raised about levels of access at the practice following challenges in recruiting doctors. As a result of these discussions, the practice has taken the difficult decision that it is no longer possible to maintain its two branch surgeries in Eardisley and Pembridge.’

Patients are being consulted about potential alternative services – which include offering free transport for patients to travel to the main practice in Kington and use of technology for appointments that do not require physical examinations.

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Ms Price said: ‘We have identified that there is capacity in the practice’s main surgery in Kington, which will ensure that no one will be left without access to a GP if these branch surgeries are closed.’

Elsewhere campaigners are calling for urgent action to save the Cauvery Medical Practice in Scunthorpe, which is set to close in October when GP partners Dr NK Shambhulingappa and Dr Ratna Ugargol retire – leaving 3,700 patients without a practice.

UNISON Health branch said NHS England had not consulted patients before deciding to close – and called for locums to be brought in until permanent GP staff can be found.

Julian Corlett, UNISON Health Scunthorpe branch secretary and a patient at the Cauvery practice, told Pulse: ‘I can accept that GPs, after 35 years of distinguished service, do retire – but our frustration is, I can see no evidence there has been any planning for this and it seems it’s been opportunistic – NHS England have said, “they’re going, so here’s a chance to close the practice”.’

Mr Corlett, a senior operating department practitioner in the NHS, said there were major concerns among patients there would not be adequate space at other practices to take them on.

He said: ‘I’ve been contacted by other patients in the other practices and their experiences are in many cases are the practices are struggling to meet the health needs of their existing patients –without the extra burden of these additional 3,700 patients to care for.

‘We must speak out – because nationally there is a drive to either close or merge practices and it’s the knock-on effect. As the BMA itself has said, across the country there is increasing evidence that patients are saying we are not being well served as it is, without compounding that problem.’

However a spokesperson for NHS England, North Yorkshire and Humber, said patients could register elsewhere and a neighbouring practice told Pulse it luckily had the capacity to take on more patients.

The NHS England, North Yorkshire and Humber spokesperson said: ‘Our main priority is to ensure that registered patients continue to have access to high quality, local GP services. We have written to all patients currently registered at the Cauvery Medical Practice with full details of alternative practices in their local area that they can now register with.’

The six Teeside practices – serving over 15,000 patients – are currently under review by NHS England and may lose their contracts at the end of the year or early 2015.