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Struggling practices to be offered emergency support after Pulse campaign

Exclusive Neighbouring GP practices will be drafted in to provide emergency support to colleagues in the south of England who are struggling to keep afloat, under new NHS England plans seen by Pulse.

The major move by the NHS England South region will see them contract a list of GP providers to provide ‘short-term general medical service support’ after the resignation or retirement of a GP.

The development comes after Pulse has highlighted a number of possible closures in the south of England as part of its Stop Practice Closures campaign, which calls for emergency support to be put in place to help struggling practices.

Pulse has reported six practices on the brink in Wessex and the closure of a practice in Brighton that forced NHS England bosses to give neigbouring practices an additional £25 administrative payment for every patient they took on.

Across England, Pulse has learnt that there has been a 500% increase this year in practices approaching NHS England seeking advice on closing or merging.

NHS England bosses had said practice closures ‘should not be assumed to be a problem’, but now the south region is expecting to finalise a network this summer of GP providers who LMC leaders say could be asked to take on extra patients or even stepping in to run a practice temporarily.

It said that short-term general medical service support under an APMS contract could be provided for reasons such as ‘the death of a single handed general practitioner or the short notice retirement or resignation of a general practitioner’.

In a letter to all GP senior partners and practice managers sent last week, NHS England said it was specifically looking for ‘suitably experienced, local, regional and national general medical service providers’, as well as federations and ‘multi-specialty providers’ to join the framework agreement, which will use APMS contracting.

The letter added: ‘The framework will be designed to increase the options open to primary care commissioners and simplify the timeline and process for securing short-term general medical services locally. 

‘General medical services will be purchased from the suppliers on the framework using APMS contracts and, where necessary, after mini competitions between interested framework providers.’

Wessex LMC chief executive Dr Nigel Watson said that the LMC was consulted and had itself looked at setting up a support system for practices in difficulty, but found it would be too complicated to run from the LMC.

Dr Watson said the network idea was ‘a good thing’. He added: ‘The idea for this has been floating around for some time to create something where you could go in and support and stabilise a practice while maybe it changes, or maybe it is able to recruit, rather than you end up with a practice just becoming unsustainable.’

This could mean temporary supporting a practice with its patient demand ‘or even going in temporarily and taking over the practice’, he said, and was an alternative to an approach of giving short-term financial support that may not help recruitment problems.

Dr Watson said there was an appetite from GPs to be part of the team. He said: ‘I spoke to some GPs who had recently retired for example who said they would be quite happy to be part of a team that went into a practice say for three months just to stabilise it.’

The BMA and the RCGP have also highlighted the struggle practices face through their respective ‘Your Patient Cares’ and ‘Put Patients First’ campaigns.

GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘We have made very strong representations to NHS England about the unpredictability and insecurity of any GP practice.

‘The fact that we have publicised collectively that practices either are closing or are at risk of closing – including Pulse’s Stop Practice Closures campaign – has been of help.

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