The collapse of a GP practice could be ‘catastrophic’ for their communities, NHS bosses have warned.
Skerne Medical Group (SMG), which currently runs four surgeries, has revealed it is planning to close sites in Trimdon Village and Fishburn next year.
The proposal, which could affect more than 5,500 patients, followed a six-week consultation prompted by a ‘recruitment crisis’ threatening the entire group.
Dr Stewart Findlay, chief clinical officer of Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield (DDES) Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), urged support for SMG, warning it could be ‘catastrophic’ for patients if it was forced under.
“Our feeling is if this practice does not make the changes there’s a real danger this practice will collapse,” he told Durham County Council’s Adults, Wellbeing and Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee yesterday (Tuesday, December 4).
“And there’s other practices around which, even if they appear well staffed, could also collapse as a result.
“It could be catastrophic for the centre of County Durham [if it did collapse] and I think we have no option but to support them.”
The consultation had sought opinions on whether ‘Trimdon Village surgery and one additional site’ should be closed in 2019.
According to the practice, which also runs surgeries in Sedgefield and Trimdon Colliery and has about 15,000 registered patients in total, it has lost more than a third of its GPs since 2016.
This was through a combination of resignations, retirements and sickness.
And it claims it has struggled to recruit and retain new staff because of a national shortage of GPs and a preference among them for urban practices based at a single site, rather rural ones spread over several surgeries.
Dr Jane Hearmon, of SMG, told the meeting: “This change is not about people losing access to GPs, it’s about ensuring all our patients can get quality medical services for the longer term.
“I’m not prepared to see our practice fall over issues to do with the buildings.
“Recent graduates going into general practice have different expectation and only by creating a larger full services structure will we be attractive to the new generation of GPs.”
While GP appointments would no longer be available at Fishburn, she added other services could continue to be run from the site, which could be used for admin purposes.
Dr Hearmon also claimed the practice had ‘not benefited to any significant degree from S106 money – cash paid by house builders and other developers to pay for infrastructure improvements needed for rising populations.
But Trimdon and Thornley councillor Peter Brookes branded the decision ‘disgraceful’ and urged a rethink.
“I’m afraid it’s rubbing salt into the wound for the people of Trimdon Village,” he said.
“It was bad enough for the 1,500 people in the village using that service, but now the others who travel to Fishburn will now have to travel to Trimdon Colliery or Sedgefield as well.
“I don’t know how this decision can be justified on medical grounds, how can you have people in the most deprived area having to travel the furthest for their primary care?”
Councillors were given the option of requesting the matter be considered by the Health Secretary.
But they instead opted to allow the DDES CCG to debate it at an emergency meeting later this month.
Details of the meeting are due to be confirmed in the coming days.
Numbers of reguistered patients per surgery:
Trimdon Village 1,500
Trimdon Colliery 2,049
James Harrison, Local Democracy Reporting Service