Saxmundham: ‘No complaints’ over on-call GP revisions, says provider

BOSSES at Suffolk’s on-call GP service claim performance has been made more effective by replacing three out-of-hours bases with one.

Just a week after the closure of bases in Newmarket, Aldeburgh and Wickham Market, and the opening of a new base in Saxmundham, the region’s on-call healthcare provider declared the changes a success.

But critics deemed it too soon to assume efficiency in the new system, which is being monitored by the NHS for three months to ensure a consistent service is provided following the changes in provision.

At the start of this month, Harmoni reduced its service bases from 10 to eight across the county, meaning Wickham Market Resource Centre, Aldeburgh Hospital and Newmarket Hospital are no longer used to see out-of-hours patients.

Harmoni said it would mean there were 13 GP cars across Suffolk at busy times, such as a Saturday morning, rather than the previous 10, and the new shift patterns would be more attractive to staff, making it easier to fill rotas, whereas the old system meant centres sometimes had to close due to lack of available staff.

A week after the opening of a new service based at the Saxmundham Health clinic, Harmoni’s regional medical director, Dr David Lee, said operations had been made more flexible and that there had so far been “no indication of any major concerns from patients”.

Dr Lee moved to reassure Wickham Market service user Sheila Wright who accused the company of being “more inclined to reduce costs than serve the public in the most effective way”.

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Mrs Wright said: “The service is meant to require no one to have to travel more than half an hour, but the Harmoni bases are usually outside this time frame.”

Dr Lee said the move had meant three more GPs in cars were available to visit people at home and more staff to see patients.

He argued that no one would face a drive of more than 30 minutes to see a GP, adding: “The new base allows room not only for doctors and advanced nurse practitioners, but also for the training of registrars – the GPs of the future that will come to work in Suffolk.

“Our rotas have been full for the first week – it has been a big success from that point of view.”

Staff saw 22 patients face-to-face during the first week in Saxmundham and GPs made 22 home visits, with more enquiries being dealt with over the phone.

Mrs Wright also asked why the former Wickham Market service had often been unstaffed for long periods and questioned how that problem would be solved by moving to Saxmundham.

Dr Lee said: “It was an issue that the surgery was not often staffed.

“The frank answer is that it was not a popular place for GPs to work.

“We don’t want doctors and nurses sitting in bases not doing what they do best.

“When not using Wickham Market, we are still achieving an improving quality of service.

“The Aldeburgh base was valued but its location made it less easy to achieve the 30 minute requirement for everyone.

“We are being monitored very carefully and are trying to provide the best service for Suffolk, not just one area of the county.”