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Hospital trust closes 5,000-patient GP practice over recruitment issues

A hospital trust has been forced to close a 5,000-patient GP practice because of ‘significant difficulties’ recruiting GPs and an ‘over-reliance’ on locums.

Collingwood Medical Group, which will close from the end of November, forms part of Northumbria Primary Care, a wholly owned subsidiary of Northumbria NHS Foundation Trust.

The trust has taken over the running of seven practices since April 2015, with all GPs going salaried.

Collingwood Medical Group has around 4,700 patients in Blyth, Northumberland and notified patients in June that they should register with neighbouring practices.

Northumbria Primary Care managing director Julie Danskin told Pulse: ‘Over the past three years the practice team at Collingwood Medical Group has faced significant difficulties with regard to a number of issues, most notably in recruitment.

‘The resulting over-reliance on locums has meant we haven’t been able to guarantee patients continuity from their doctor – which a high proportion need and which we feel everyone deserves.’

She added that over the course of three years, ‘no stone has been left unturned’ in an attempt to make the practice sustainable, but she said the efforts ‘have not been successful [and] we have been forced to give notice to terminate the contract’. 

Siobhan Brown, chief operating officer at NHS Northumberland CCG, said: ‘After carefully considering all available options, the CCG reluctantly decided that the practice will close permanently. All patients have been informed and asked to register with alternative practices over the coming months.

She added: ‘Clearly the joint health, safety and well-being of all Northumberland residents is always our number one priority, as is the ability to access the best healthcare as close to home as possible.’ 

This comes after Northumbria Primary Care claimed in 2016 that every GP who went to work for the trust was meeting patient demand more effectively than before the practices were taken over.

Dr Jane Lothian, medical secretary at Northumberland LMC, told Pulse: ‘The LMC has had a concern about the stresses placed on all of the clinicians for some time and all parties have tried very hard to solve the situation.’

She added that practice closure is ‘sometimes the only way’, adding: ‘The LMC regrets what’s happened and is trying to support all parties.’

Earlier this week, Pulse revealed Dr Arvind Madan, NHS England director of primary care, had made comments suggesting GPs should be pleased when small practices close.

However, Dr Lothian said she believes the closure of Collingwood Medical Centre, as part of a larger practice, is not evidence against working at scale.

She said: ‘The Collingwood situation is just another demonstration of the extreme pressures that primary care is under.’

But she added: ‘Northumberland as a whole is very disappointed that he [Dr Madan] takes that position because we support our practices, small and large, and believe there’s a place for them all.’