Exclusive GP practices across a town in crisis have all been forced to re-open their lists to new patients despite voicing patient safety concerns, Pulse has learned.
NHS England told practices across Bridlington that they had to re-open lists by 1 May, after they were closed for nearly 18 months because GPs could not cope with demand.
The LMC said all practices unsuccessfully appealed the decision to the NHS Litigation Authority, but the litigation authority sided with NHS England’s argument that ‘patient choice’ took priority.
Bridlington, a coastal town in East Riding of Yorkshire, has been struggling with especially severe GP recruitment problems.
Dr Alan Francis, vice chair of the Hull and East Yorkshire LMC, said: ‘All practices are struggling with large list sizes and they were closed for over a year but NHS England has now forced them to re-open their lists against their wishes.
‘All the practices appealed but were unsuccessful and from 1 May they have had to reopen them. Discussions around that are ongoing.’
While lists were closed practices had still taken on new patients but they were allocated by NHS England.
Dr Francis said: ‘They say it is about patient choice. Our argument was that it is about patient safety and there was no way we were able to provide a safe level of care.
‘We can’t just keep absorbing patients with limited premises and limited workforce. But NHS England’s view was that patient choice is a key NHS issue.’
As revealed by Pulse, all the practices in the town closed their lists due to unmanageable workloads at the end of 2016.
And a plan to boost viability of general practice in the town was scuppered when NHS England pulled the plug on promised funding for a new health centre, which would have housed five surgeries, earlier this year.
In the meantime, workload pressures persist. Last year, struggling a practice that was taken over by a local trust advertised a salaried GP role at £130,000 per year.
A spokesperson for NHS England in Yorkshire and the Humber said: ‘Following 18 months of closed lists, the practices applied to extend this period further which was not supported by NHS England. The practices chose to appeal that decision via the independent NHS Litigation Authority who, having considered the case made by both sides, upheld NHS England’s decision. Contractually, the practices were then required to re-open their patient lists.’
Alex Seale, director of commissioning and transformation at NHS East Riding of Yorkshire CCG, said: ‘We are aware that NHS England has requested GP practices in Bridlington to reopen their practice lists, and new patients are now able to register with a practice in Bridlington.
‘We will continue to work with the practices and NHS England to look at solutions which will increase access and capacity for GP services in Bridlington.’
BMA GP Committee workforce lead Dr Farah Jameel said: ‘It’s important to remember that these practices closed their lists because GPs were concerned that unmanageable workloads were putting patient safety at risk. Therefore commissioners must work with practices and the LMC to ensure patient safety is not compromised and that the workload pressures are really being taken seriously.
‘As seen earlier this week, GPs across the country are struggling to meet the demand for appointments, and this is a local example of what happens when this situation reaches crisis point. GPC has been warning about this for years now, and it is important NHS England heeds our call for sustainable and recurrent funding as outlined in Saving General Practice.’
It is not the first time NHS England has imposed a blanket decision on GP practices to re-open lists in an area. Last year all three practics in East Dereham, Norfolk, were forced to reopen their patient lists despite patient safety concerns. At the time, each GP was caring for 3,000 patients.