Doctors fight plan to close GP surgery in row over merger bid

NCL CCG has received an application from Queen’s Crescent and James Wigg practices to merge

Tuesday, 31st May — By Tom Foot

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A GROUP of doctors has blocked a bid by cost-cutting NHS chiefs to close the only GP surgery in Queen’s Crescent.

The North Central Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) primary care committee made an “urgent decision” last month to recommend “closing the surgery”.

Thousands of patients would have been told to move to the James Wigg Practice in Kentish Town Health Centre.

But partners at the Queen’s Crescent Practice say they have blocked any plans for a merger onto a single site – for now.

Dr Stephen Yaxley, who runs the Queen’s Crescent practice, said: “The partnership of James Wigg and Queen’s Crescent practices was not requesting a merger onto one site, and was not in favour of this recommendation.”

He said the doctors had said they “would not consider a merger onto one site as this would exacerbate health inequalities in this deprived area with a high BAME population” and would be a “detrimental step”, adding: “Merging the practices using the current two sites would, however, be of great benefit to our patients.

“We were requesting to merge just the contracts and IT systems, while keeping both sites fully open, being very conscious of our duty to serve the local population around Queen’s Crescent Practice, with its extremely high levels of need.

“Our primary aim was to increase the access to the wide range of services available at Kentish Town Health Centre to the patients of Queen’s Crescent Practice, and to introduce more streamlined and efficient systems.”

A report to the CCG said, however, that there was “evidence of the practice actively seeking legal advice on their options to exit the lease” at Queen’s Crescent.

It said the partners had said they would incur costs of around half a million pounds if they were to break out of the lease early, and that “these costs would be unaffordable”.

Alex Orton, from the London Medical Committees GPs lobby group, said there was a “wider context” of practices merging lists together because GP workload had gone through the roof during Covid.

“CCGs cannot forcibly tell practices they have to close a premises.

“But every CCG is funded for about 80 per cent of stuff it is supposed to deliver. The money is never enough and so they start looking at rationing, on behalf of the government.”

The Keats Group Practice in Downshire Hill and Hampstead Group Practice in Fleet Road have agreed to formalise their “excellent and close working relationship” with a merger that was approved this week.

Currently, both surgeries would remain open as branches of the newly formed Heath Group Practice.

A letter to patients said: “From the patients’ perspective, very little will change in the short-term.  Both practices will continue to operate from their existing sites so that patients can continue to attend their usual practice.”

An NCL spokesperson said: “NCL CCG has received an application from Queen’s Crescent and James Wigg practices to merge. The CCG considered whether the combined practice patient list could be supported from a single site and the CCG’s Primary Care Commissioning Committee on April 21 approved the merger based on the operation of the surgery from Kentish Town Health Centre.

“Combining practices can often make the best use of clinicians’ different skills, in order to share expertise and offer more efficient services for patients. Subsequently the practices have said they remain committed to retaining two sites and the CCG will continue to work with the practices to ensure the best primary medical care services for patients.”

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