The Oundle Medical Practice is on the verge of a revolutionary change. It is merging with the St Mary’s Medical Centre and Sheep Market Surgery in Stamford and the Lakeside Healthcare Centre, which operates surgeries in Corby, Kettering and Brigstock.
In collaboration, they will form the largest single management practice in the entire NHS, covering four counties and serving the healthcare needs of around 100,000 people.
It is speculated that the number could ultimately rise as high as 300,000 under the Lakeside Vanguard.
But what does this mean? First, in early October a new clinical computer service was installed. The next step is to rethink ways of delivering services. A reduction in the surgery’s base line funding has provided a stimulus to consider change.
The vision is that with a bigger organisation comes the ‘opportunity to do things differently’, said Dr Mike Richardson, partner in the Oundle Medical Practice.
One of the strengths of GP surgeries is that they are owned by partners, who then contract to the NHS. The planned merger will be creating a geographical cluster of practices comprising around 62 partners. They will then be in a position to make more of their own decisions, rather than following NHS orders. The fundamental upside is that in a super-partnership, there is a wider breadth of solutions.
By being part of the vanguard of change within the NHS, the practice will be able to decide what improvements they judge to be necessary, rather than just respond to what the NHS health economy dictates what they should do.
It’s a case of; ‘This is what we can do’, rather than ‘this is what you are being told to do’ ’, Dr Richardson explained.
The fact is, doing nothing would simply result in a reduction of services. By merging, each practice will remain open, no doctors or other staff will be moving and all current treatments will remain the same, but with a ‘better package of care for long term illnesses, and more responsive services’.
Dr Richardson said: ‘Being part of a much bigger practice means that we shall be able to attract, recruit and retain the very best doctors and healthcare professionals to our area because we shall be able to offer them a varied and exciting career.’
Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health described the merger as a ‘pivotal moment for the NHS and it supports the Government’s long term plan to deliver more joined-up, pro-active, personalised care for our most vulnerable’.
What Mr Hunt is referring to is the relief larger GP organisations will bring to hospitals, because ideally with better services, the practices will be more capable of dealing with a larger variety of issues.
This all begs the question; what are the downsides?
Dr Richardson said: ‘It’s change. Change can be difficult.’
The NHS website has issued an online document listing the potential caveats, which include lack of long-term planning.
There is a danger that the GPs will get too focused on the merger and drawing all interests into line, so that further development and maintenance of consistent availability is hindered.
GPs represent the first consultation and through mergers such as this, they could become more accessible, better equipped and staffed, allowing hospitals to concentrate on the more serious casualties.
By Harry Jenkinson