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Care provision in Folkestone could ‘collapse completely’ with one third of GPs at retirement age

PUBLISHED: 16:13 04 October 2017 | UPDATED: 16:13 04 October 2017

A shortage of GPs is hitting Folkestone particularly hard

A shortage of GPs is hitting Folkestone particularly hard

FabioBalbi

The seaside town is currently suffering a shortage of some 16 full-time equivalent doctors

Care provision in Folkestone could be set to “collapse completely” over the next 12 months, with more than a third of the town’s doctors currently at retirement age.

The warning comes from GPs at Central Surgery, Guildhall Street, Hawkinge & Elham, Manor Clinic, The New Surgery, Park Farm Surgery and Sandgate Road Surgery, who last month took the “unprecedented” action of applying to close its doors to new patients.

The doctors say a national GP crisis has been acutely felt in the seaside town, with a shortage of some 16 full-time equivalent GPs, and with many edging towards retirement, they fear things are only going to get worse over the coming months.

However, the clinical commissioning group, which is responsible for planning local healthcare, rejected the applications for a formal list closure - a decision the GPs will appeal against over the coming weeks.

It comes after Folkestone East Family Practice, which serves nearly 5,000 patients announced earlier this year it was to close in November.

In a statement issued by the GPs this week, they said: “This unsustainable situation affects every single resident of Folkestone, every surgery is struggling to meet demand.

“The sad truth is that over the next year we will lose more GPs to retirement, as over one third of our GPs are at retirement age and with the current work pressure they will choose to retire sooner rather than later which will cause the current primary care provision to collapse completely.

“Despite the crisis facing current residents, new housing developments have been approved and some are near completion, these plans have all been made without any consultation with local GPs adding further strain on an already overstretched service.”

Back in May, Ukip councillors on Shepway District Council demanded a ban on new planning applications until the crisis was resolved.

“We believe that extreme measures must be put in place to send the strongest possible message to central government,” they said.

The local authority said in response that it has a statutory duty to process planning applications, assesses each on merit and works closely with the NHS and other partners to ensure there is appropriate infrastructure provision to meet the needs of current and future generations locally.

The crisis was compounded by further confusion last month, when constituency MP Damian Collins appeared to have been told by the local clinical commissioning group that 1,500 Folkestone East patients had already been successfully moved, however a Freedom of Information request in fact revealed not a single patient had been reallocated, as the process had not yet started.

A spokesman for NHS South Kent Coast CCG told us this week: “The formal reallocation process for Folkestone East patients commenced on Monday last week (25 September).

“In a previous verbal briefing with Mr Collins the CCG described how up to 1,500 patients live within the catchment areas of four practices currently accepting new patients and were eligible to register with them.

“We have now clarified this matter with Mr Collins and apologise for any misunderstanding.”

It is understood health chiefs will increase funding by around 50 per cent per patient to GP practices in the town that are taking on extra patients.

The CCG is also funding new services to try and take pressure off of surgeries, including a Home Visiting Service, which started on August 14, where a team of paramedics, nurses and healthcare assistants carry out home visits to housebound patients on behalf of GP practices.

Extra appointments with GPs, nurses, mental health professionals and physiotherapists, will also be available at Royal Victoria Hospital, from 8am to 8pm on weekdays, from next year.

Conservative MP Mr Collins said: “When the Folkestone East practice closes, we will be losing a surgery, but not the three GPs who work from it; they will instead transfer to the Sandgate Road surgery.

“In the longer term, our priority has to be to identify and recruit more GPs to work in our area.

“The government is currently recruiting more GPs from overseas to work in the NHS, and we will benefit from that.

“The NHS is also working with the universities in Canterbury to create a new medical school for east Kent to work with local GP surgeries that are also training practices for new doctors.

“This will help to provide more of the doctors we need for the future.”

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