A team of CQC inspectors has made an unannounced visit to a GP practice in Soho, central London, after complaints that non-English speaking patients were receiving sub-standard care.
Chinese patients, who make up a third of the 5,200 patients registered at the Soho Square General Practice, have been turned away following the departure of both Chinese-speaking practice partners, as well as ‘all other experienced staff, at all levels’.
In a letter sent to NHS Central London CCG (CLCCG) from the Soho Society, which is representing patients, chair Tim Lord said: ‘The loss from the practice of Chinese speaking staff has caused anxiety and frustration with the result that, on several occasions, patients presenting at the practice have been turned away because there has been no clinician available to treat them.’
He said that many of the patients were elderly, speak little or no English and were anxious about travelling long distances to other GP practices.
Patients were now being asked to speak to an interpreter over the phone during appointments, he added.
The letter also said both practice partners, Dr Louis Brassey and Dr Stephen Cheung, both Chinese or Mandarin speakers, left the surgery following disputes over proposed changes to working practices, having served the community for more than 12 years.
The practice, which was originally set up 20 years ago to serve the Chinatown community, was taken over by Yorkshire-based private operators Living Care Medical Services in August 2016.
Living Care wrote to patients shortly after they took over proposing a raft of changes on the grounds that the surgery was ‘not financially viable’ in its current form.
These included changes to the way GPs worked, upskilling nurses and centralising administrative duties. The company also proposed introducing a telephone triage system, and doing away with a morning walk-in clinic.
A spokesperson for CLCCG said meetings had been held with Living Care, NHS England and HealthWatch, as well as with the Patient Participation Group in a bid to address the issues.
She said: ‘We continue to monitor the situation at the practice and work closely with the provider Living Care.
‘We understand there are specific requirements unique to this population and translation and interpreter services are in place where needed to ensure patients can continue to access health care at the Soho practice, consistent with other GP practices in central London.’
She added that a number of steps had already been taken, which included the appointment of a new clinical staff, an operational manager, a new assistant practice manager and a healthcare assistant.
In addition to this, she said, Living Care had also notified patients that any proposed changes to the way the practice is staffed will be paused subject to a consultation exercise with patients which will begin this month.
A spokesperson for the CQC confirmed that an inspection of Soho Square General Practice took place on Thursday 10 May and a report would be published in due course.
Luke Minshall, responsible officer for Living Care, said: ‘Living Care Medical Services support the statement made by the Central London CCG. We are working with the Central London CCG to improve our services for the patients we serve.’