Hopes that a closing GP surgery would be replaced were dashed after health care bosses voted for patients to re-register at nearby practices.
The decision was made on Tuesday, August 16 at an extra-ordinary meeting of the Primary Care Commissioning Committee at Coastal West Sussex Clinical Commissioning Group, which plans health care in the area.
Because we are so aware of the recruitment crisis in primary care, I think it is totally inconceivable that we would find three GPs in East Anglia that would want to work in LittlehamptonDavid Whitehead, clinical director of Coastal West Sussex Clinical Commissioning Group
It was in response to the announcement by Arun Medical Group in May that it will be closing its surgery in East Street on October 31, displacing more than 7,000 patients.
The two options presented to the committee were to secure a new contract for a GP practice or to disperse the East Street surgery’s patient list among the remaining practices.
In outlying the options, David Whitehead, clinical director of the commissioning group, said that the closure reflected the national picture of GP shortages.
“Because we are so aware of the recruitment crisis in primary care, I think it is totally inconceivable that we would find three GPs in East Anglia that would want to work in Littlehampton. It feels to me too much to hope for.
In making the case for the list dispersal option, he said: “I fully accept that people might disagree with us but seeing the existing Arun surgeries growing will secure their future.
“Everything I have read says that big is beautiful: the bigger you are the safer you are financially and the lower your overheads. Despite the pain in the short run for the surgery – and of course there will be – in the long run it could work.”
Sarah Henley, Head of Primary Care at the group said: “It is a difficult time for general practice in Arun and we are working very closely with the existing practices in Littlehampton and surrounding area to ensure they have the support and mechanisms in place to take on the additional patients from Arun Medical Group.
“GP practices in Arun have temporarily closed their lists but I can confirm that practices have agreed to open them.”
She also added that a financial and support package had been agreed for the other practices in the area who will take on the new patients.
“We will continue to absolutely support the re-registration of patients, both with practice managers who have been extremely proactive but also we will look to identify those vulnerable patients that need more assistance and we will allocate and liase with them at that point.”
Before the decision was reached, committee member Chris Moore – who voted for list dispersal – wanted to ensure that the commissioning group was still considering a new GP contract in the long term.
He said: “There will come a point where we cannot disperse any more. I don’t want us to take our eyes off the ball with how to build the capacity to address the workload issues.”
Richard Brown echoed his colleague by saying that more discussion was needed about what will happen to GP surgeries when new housing developments in the area were completed, adding that the current practices would be ‘saturated’ when Arun Medical Group’s list dispersal took place.
In response to the planned medical facility at The Enterprise Hub in Wick, Sarah Henley said that they were progressing to a ‘business case’, with a wider strategy being taken forward by the Littlehampton Health Services Advisory Group.
In the coming days, the 7,070 patients at Arun Medical Group will be written to about the decision.
Dr Jill Adams, Sr Rachel Priest and Dr Oliver Middleton, who are partners at Arun Medical Group, said: “We are extremely saddened and sorry that the practice has to close.
“It was a difficult decision for the partners to make and we truly wished we’d been able to find a way to stay open.
“Like many GP practices all over the UK we have struggled to recruit new GPs and with the increase in demand for GP services in Littlehampton we just don’t have enough doctors to safely provide the high level of quality care patients are used to.
“We are committed to working with the other GP practices in Arun and the CCG to limit the disruption to patients as much as we can, while closing down the practice.”