Patients blocked from leaving GP practice across whole town amid national workforce crisis

'We are not taking the decision lightly to support temporarily suspending a patient’s ability to move to another GP practice,' local NHS leaders say

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Friday 18 January 2019 20:12
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Gosport is one of many coastal towns and rural areas hard hit by current GP crisis
Gosport is one of many coastal towns and rural areas hard hit by current GP crisis

Patients across an entire town have been blocked from leaving their GP over winter in a bid to stop an exodus creating unsafe care amid a national doctor shortage.

Around 80,000 patients in Gosport, Hampshire have been told they cannot change to another surgery until 31 March, the period where the NHS is busiest and appointments are most in demand.

Local NHS leaders say they signed off on the decision of local practices who feared they would be left with unsafe numbers of patients as 2,100 have sought to change surgery in recent months.

This has already forced two of the eight surgeries in Gosport to block all new patient registrations as taking on any more could become “unsafe to manage” and mean existing patients wait even longer for appointments.

“We are not taking the decision lightly to support temporarily suspending a patient’s ability to move to another GP practice,” Dr Andrew Holden, spokesperson for Fareham and Gosport Clinical Commissioning Group said.

“This temporary suspension will give the practices some time, in a planned and co-ordinated way, to catch up with the influx of patient registrations received to date.”

GPs’ contracts with the NHS allow them to close their lists where there are safety concerns, but the Gosport practices are still accepting new patients who move to the area. Likewise patients moving away can register outside the town.

Prior to the ban Gosport MP Caroline Dineage, a health minister, told local media she had been directing her patients to leave struggling practices.

“I’m not surprised my constituents have been changing their GPs in recent months – indeed, I have been encouraging them to do so,” she told the Portsmouth Herald before Christmas.

The crisis in GP recruitment has been driven, in part, by government pay-restraint for NHS staff and pension changes which mean doctors are cutting down their hours or retiring early while patient numbers increase.

This has contributed to soaring waiting times for patients and warnings from medical leaders that doctors are routinely seeing unsafe numbers of patients and could miss serious symptoms.

A government pledge to attract more than 5,000 GPs by 2020 has not arrested the decline, with 1,000 fewer doctors working in the NHS. Ministers have now abandoned the deadline and a building up plans to recruit thousands of doctors and nurses from overseas to plug gaps across the health service.

Dr Robin Harlow, GP and clinical director of the Willow Group, which covers four of the town's practices, said: “GP recruitment and retention is a national issue and one which is being felt particularly hard in Gosport

The practices were all taken over by the local Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust after being at risk of closing, and are currently trying to hire new staff.

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Dr Nigel Watson, chair of Wessex Local Medical Committee, represents the practices across Hampshire and said individual practices often request a temporary block on new patients, but “It is unusual for practices across an area to do this at the same time”.

“It is good that the CCG has supported practices in Gosport to take this temporary measure to help manage their service over the busy winter period,” he added.

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