GP Partners at two of the largest practices in the South West are heralding a bright future for primary care in and around Plymouth in announcing plans to merge later in the year.
Bringing together the Beacon Medical Group and Ocean Health will create a practice serving 60,000 patients in areas including Plympton, Chaddlewood, St Budeaux, Mannamead, Efford and Ivybridge.
This size of GP practice is new to the NHS and the GPs in charge are convinced that working at a larger scale will offer real benefits for patients.
Dr Christina Chetcuti, a GP Partner at Ocean Health said: “We are really excited at the prospect of joining together with GPs at the Beacon Medical Group. We have done a lot to offer new services to our patients, with new professionals such as pharmacists and paramedics joining our team being really successful. But our patients will recognise that we have struggled to recruit enough GPs so that we can offer appointments as quickly as our patients should be able to see us or so that they can consistently see the same doctor. One of the key aims for this merger is to improve the chances of recruiting GPs to an area of Plymouth that has traditionally struggled to attract people to apply here.”
Dr Jonathan Cope, Managing Partner at the Beacon Medical Group, who recently won the prestigious award of ‘General Practitioner of the Year’ from GP magazine Pulse for his innovative work within Beacon said: “We’ve really noticed a big difference in what we are able to offer to patients as we have grown, particularly that our average waiting time for a GP appointment has fallen from 14 days to 8 days. We have many new services, new clinicians and are helping to support people locally without having difficult trips to hospital. We believe in practices serving local communities and scale gives us the opportunity to both improve core GP services and to develop services that can only be run for larger numbers.”
Both practices acknowledge that primary care is under real pressure straining to cope with the dual issues of increasing need for their services and financial constraints, but think this is the best way to offer the kind of GP service that patients have been used to, expect and need.
Dr Cope added “It can be really tough at times and the job is more pressured than it used to be, but if we want to keep providing local GP services and to have enough doctors, nurses and other clinicians here to provide the care required, then we have to be innovative. We are delighted that over the last couple of weeks we have recruited 4 new GPs – a level we have never managed before and this will enable us to improve access across the whole of the new practice.”
The decision to look to merge means some more detailed work needs to be carried out, but the practices are hoping to have combined by 1st July 2017. A key part of this is the involvement of patients in discussing the proposals and getting feedback about their view of what is being described. Dr Chetcuti said: “We really want to hear from the patients we serve because their views on how we get enough staff to serve their needs are important – ultimately we are doing this so we can provide better care locally”.
The practices have been supported in dealing with recent challenges and with merger discussions by both NHS England and Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group and are keen to acknowledge the help that they have been given. Julia Cory, Head of Primary Care at NHS England said: “It can be difficult for many practices at the moment with real challenges about workload and recruitment, so it is hugely encouraging that we are able to look at a local model of how to create successful general practices for the future; we wish them every success.”
One of the benefits cited about larger General Practices is their ability to work more effectively with large organisations such as Derriford Hospital or Plymouth City Council to join services together. Councillor Lynda Bowyer, Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care from Plymouth City Council said: “We are very aware of the challenges faced by the health service and particularly GP practices in the City. We have seen some of the benefits that these practices have been able to achieve from working at a larger scale and are very positive about the impact that this merger can have on the City; given the health challenges we face, we need to be at the national and regional forefront of things that can improve general practice.”
Local Member of Parliament, Johnny Mercer, also said: “I welcome the news that Ocean Health and the Acute Care Hub in St Budeaux are joining forces with Beacon Medical Group. Providing the best possible primary health care for my constituents is absolutely essential and I am pleased this merger is taking place to ensure this is delivered.”