Changes outlined for Haverhill GP surgery as recruitment woes pose ‘crisis’

Dr Paul Driscoll, chairman of the Suffolk GP Federation. Picture: ASHLEY PICKERING

Dr Paul Driscoll, chairman of the Suffolk GP Federation. Picture: ASHLEY PICKERING - Credit: ASHLEY PICKERING

Urgent changes are being made at a Suffolk GP surgery facing doctor shortages amid fears of a looming “crisis”.

Christmas Maltings and Clements Practice in Haverhill is altering the way it operates in a bid to meeting rising demand and lessen the load on staff.

Bosses say the surgery currently offers more than twice the number of appointments compared to similar sized practices in Suffolk.

By October, the number of full-time equivalent doctors working at the surgery will drop to just two.

Dr Fiona Andrews will be retiring in September and Dr Tom Curtis will be leaving in June. Dr Afshan Hussain has also recently left the practice.

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Dr Paul Driscoll, medical director and chairman of Suffolk GP Federation, which took on the running of the practice last year, said: “The shortage of GPs in Suffolk and across the UK means we are unlikely to find replacements. We will be using locum doctors until we can attract other GPs to the area.

“It’s therefore important that we maintain a manageable workload for our clinicians, otherwise, if we do nothing, there’s a risk the situation will get worse.

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“If we are to continue to provide safe, appropriate and sustainable care, then we must change the way the practice operates.”

In an attempt to handle the demand, some staff at the practice have been trained as care navigators to direct patients requesting an appointment to the most appropriate clinician for their needs. This may not always be a GP, but could be a nurse, physiotherapist, paramedic or pharmacist.

Most patients will only be able to get an appointment on the day of phoning, and bosses say on busy days slots will be prioritised for those considered “clinically urgent”.

The practice will also stop providing some services, such as routine ear syringing.

Other changes include the introduction of self check-in screens at the Clements building – freeing up non-clinical staff so they have more time to answer the phones. Suffolk GP Federation is trying to recruit additional receptionists, but leaders say this has been difficult.

Margaret Marks, a member of the practice’s Patient Participation Group, said: “Despite the challenges faced at Christmas Maltings and Clement Practice, it is encouraging to note how well the multi-disciplinary approach has worked.

“Patients are consistently comfortable with the care practitioner they see, whether it be a paramedic, health care professional, nurse or doctor. However, there is still a great deal of work to do to avoid a crisis in the future given the planned increase in the town’s population and the aging demographics.”

Dr Driscoll urged patients to get in touch with any concerns or questions about the changes.

He added: “We recognise that patients have had to cope with a lot of change in a relatively short period of time and we would like to thank them for their continued support and understanding.”

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