Doctors, practice managers and town councillors came together last week to discuss two proposed mergers affecting Louth’s GP surgeries.
As reported previously, Kidgate Surgery and James Street Family Practice have proposed to merge, while Newmarket Medical Practice is also proposing to merge with Coningsby Surgery and the Wolds Practice in Tetford.
If approved, both mergers will take place in April, 2018.
Dr Donal Staunton attended the meeting from Kidgate Surgery, with Dr Neal Parkes and Practice Manager Angela Jesney attending from Newmarket Medical Practice.
While both doctors spoke in favour of the respective mergers, Dr Staunton’s position was clearly one of reluctant necessity, in contrast to Dr Parkes and Mrs Jesney who spoke with enthusiasm about the opportunities that would be opened up to their practice.
Dr Staunton told the town councillors: “There are three reasons (for the Kidgate and James Street merger).
“Number one, we’ve run out of doctors. Young doctors don’t want to be GPs, and they certainly don’t want to be GPs in rural East Lincolnshire.
“The second reason is that we’ve got premises issues.
“Our lease is up, and we’re pretty much given the boot.
“We spent six years trying to develop a new surgery nearby, and we have failed.
“So, unless we have some sort of merger, my patients will have no doctor on the second of April, as they’d have nowhere to practise from. That’s the brutal reality of it.
“James Street is in a position where they’ve got some premises and more room than we’ve got, so we’re trying to have a soft landing, and not a crash landing.”
Under the proposals, the Kidgate Surgery building in Queen Street would be closed as it is ‘ageing and unfit for purpose’, with all staff being invited to work at the James Street premises, which will undergo renovations and a small expansion to accommodate extra patients.
Moving on to the subject of Newmarket Medical Practice’s proposed merger with practices in Coningsby and Tetford, Practice Manager Angela Jesney explained that so far, survey results from patients at Newmarket are ‘80 : 20’ in favour of merging.
Ms Jesney stressed that Louth-based patients would not be expected to travel out to Coningsby or Tetford to see their doctor.
She also emphasised that merging the three practices - and therefore increasing their overall number of registered patients - provided new opportunities, such as being able to successfully bid for a pharmacist.
Ms Jesney continued: “This is something that we wouldn’t have been able to do as a single practice.
“In the new world, we need to have a larger population of patients in order to be offered new services and to keep primary care thriving.
“That is predominantly the reason for doing it.”
She added that being part of a larger network of surgeries helped them to attract new GPs to the area, as they can be offered a more attractive ‘portfolio career’.
Dr Parkes also spoke, to tell councillors that there would be a bid to the local CCG to provide a community ‘hub’ based at Louth County Hospital.
When questioned by Coun Julie Speed, Ms Jesney added that this hub would be an ‘add-on service’, funded by new money, which would ‘keep people out of hospital and improve access’.
“It’s not getting rid of Urgent Care, or Out Of Hours. It’s not a negative thing- it’s an additional thing.”
Mayor of Louth, Coun Pauline Watson, questioned why all three Louth practices could not be merged in a ‘utopian’ super-practice, to which both doctors replied that there are historical differences between the two providers - with Dr Parkes adding that getting GPs to agree is like ‘herding cats’.
“What we need to do, in my opinion, is look for evolution not revolution”, he added.
In their discussions, town councillors agreed that they should support the mergers.
Coun Eileen Ballard said that merging is the ‘way of the world’ nowadays, adding that change is necessary - even if it is difficult to accept.
Coun Watson said she would still have preferred all three Louth surgeries to merge - adding that she felt Newmarket would be doing a ‘rescue package’ for the surgeries in Coningsby and Tetford, which she said has suffered with staffing issues in recent years.
• Patients at the Kidgate Surgery and James Street Family Practice can take part in the consultation before the deadline on October 9, at www.jamesstreetsurgery.co.uk.
• Patients at Newmarket Medical Practice can have their say on the proposal through the online survey at www.surveymonkey.com /r/proposedmergerEastL, before the deadline on September 25.