Suffolk GP practice caring for 10,000 patients to be operated by just two GPs as of August

Combs Ford Surgery.

Combs Ford Surgery. - Credit: Archant

A Suffolk medical practice serving more than 10,000 patients could be operating with just two GPs from August, it has emerged.

Bosses at the Combs Ford Surgery in Stowmarket stressed last night that people who use the centre will continue to be given good quality care, with additional clinicians being drafted in to address the situation.

But health chiefs in the county say the issues being faced at the surgery which, with some exceptions, will not take on new patients until at least next May, is a microcosm of the growing recruitment crisis being felt across the country.

Dr Jackie Muir, GP partner at Combs Ford, admitted the once five-strong practice is seeing firsthand the shortage of general practitioners, with no applicants coming forward for its vacant posts, which were first advertised in March.

Dr Muir added: “Nationally there is an acknowledged shortfall in the number of GPs available to deliver primary health care services. Over the summer two GPs will have left our practice and, as yet, it has not been possible to replace them.

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“While we continue with our recruitment plans, we have employed additional clinicians to support our existing GPs and staff.

“These new staff will offer services including patient assessment, treatment and prescribing as well as running many clinics. Patients will continue to receive good quality care from Combs Ford Surgery.”

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Tony Rollo, chairman of Healthwatch Suffolk, said about half of the comments the watchdog has logged from patients and the public were about GP practices.

He has raised his concern that the problems currently being faced could be exacerbated in the future, potentially impacting on patient welfare.

He added: “We know that people often speak highly of their practice and have a good experience, but there are also many others that do not.

“We consider that the current situation is not working consistently for patients in some areas of our county. With predicted population growth considered, we are concerned that ongoing problems with GP recruitment may serve to cause additional pressure for the surgeries which could impact on patient care. “With the strength of public voice behind us, we will continue to seek to influence NHS England and the clinical commissioning groups wherever possible to support local practices and improve access to services.”

The impending GP shortage at Combs Ford was first mentioned in a newsletter to patients in May. It stated that one practitioner retired in August after 25 years and that two more would be leaving this August.

The newsletter suggested a “significant increase” in demand for appointments “compounded by the pressure of additional work transferring from the hospitals, together with a reduction in funding”, had impacted on the team.

In a bid to plug the gap and ensure patient safety, the surgery has now brought in an emergency care practitioner, who will run clinics and deal with walk in emergencies and home visits.

A prescribing nurse practitioner will also be joining the team.

Dr Paul Driscoll, chairman of the Suffolk GP Federation, agreed that the situation in east Suffolk was almost a microcosm of the national picture.

He said that there was no set safe level for the number of patients to one GP, adding that additional staff, clinicians and other workers can provide a number of health services to patients.

Addressing the ongoing problems and the future of GP services, he said: “I feel there has been a recognition of the value of GP services and the Stevens report into the NHS very much put primary care at the centre.

“If we (primary care) address prevention, health promotion and earlier management of chronic conditions, it is a much more cost effective way of providing a service.”

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