The sudden closure of a surgery in Hove highlights a wider shortage of family doctors, a watchdog has warned.
Healthwatch Brighton and Hove spoke out after an official report was published following the closure of Goodwood Court Medical Centre, in Hove.
Healthwatch said that it had “already raised our concerns about shortages of GPs (general practitioners) and indeed other healthcare workers”.
The watchdog added: “The age and profile of GPs in Brighton and Hove indicate that many are nearing retirement and are not being replaced.”
Healthwatch also pointed that thousands of the 10,000 patients who were registered at Goodwood Court did not appear to have registered with the nearby doctors’ surgery that has taken over the list.
Healthwatch said: “The closure of Goodwood Court Medical Centre in Hove came as a complete surprise to most patients using it.
“The final report from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) said the practice was at serious risk of harming people, a disheartening indictment for a service that we all rely on to make us better.
“It rates Goodwood Court Medical Centre as inadequate on all counts: on safety, effectiveness, care, and responsiveness to peoples’ needs – and leadership.
“The CQC action, to summarily close on inspection, was unprecedented.
“The calls Healthwatch Brighton and Hove received from patients in the immediate aftermath showed there was deep distress and confusion about what was going to happen next, with many of the most worried patients in the middle of their treatment.
“The CQC report indicates that while many patients thought the service they directly received from the doctor or nurse was caring, they still rated the overall care given in the centre as inadequate, and people had to wait an unacceptably long time for appointments.
“This was because not enough GPs were available. Healthwatch Brighton and Hove had already raised our concerns about shortages of GPs, and indeed other healthcare workers, at the Health and Wellbeing Board and the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
“The age and profile of GPs in Brighton and Hove indicate that many are nearing retirement and are not being replaced.
“What was evident in the CQC report was that a vision, leadership and systems were not in place to ensure patients were safe.
“Everything from managing medications, record keeping and the provision of repeat prescriptions to ensuring staff were professionally vetted and police checks were carried out were inadequate.
“A picture was painted of a surgery overwhelmed.
“These basic systems are the things that patients do not necessarily see but have the right to expect to be in place when they use the service.
“Patients trust that their GP practices have the right staff who are properly qualified and are working within accredited rules to provide good care.
“The practice did not seem to use complaints they received to learn and improve, nor did it use other information that demonstrated how unfavourably they compared to other practices.
“They did not have a Patient Participation Group which would have given them feedback.
“Nationally and locally, general practice is in turmoil, with many new expectations and responsibilities being laid on them.
“With staff turnover and shortages, systems and standards are essential to give patients and the public confidence in the service.
“The Goodwood experience is not over for its patients. Many have been directed by NHS England to the nearby Charter Medical Centre but thousands appear not to have registered there.
“This emergency contract only lasts until April 2016 and some patients may have to move again.
“We already have stories of Charter having to pull in its boundaries for existing patients so the fallout may affect more than patients from Goodwood.
“We are doing an ‘enter and view’ visit to talk to patients at the beginning of September at Charter Medical Centre so will be able to find out more about the impact.”
Healthwatch Brighton and Hove chair Frances McCabe said: “Patients have the right to expect caring and safe services from their GPs.
“If standards are not met, this is a breach of the trust that patients have a right to expect in their surgery.
“Shortages of GPs seem to have been a key issue in the Goodwood Medical Centre, and Healthwatch Brighton and Hove continues to need assurance that other surgeries are not facing similar problems.
“We continue to keep patient experience on the agenda wherever we can and we are working with the Patient Participation Group in the Charter Centre.
“We are interested in gathering patients’ views and experiences so we can ensure their voices are heard in the system at the highest levels.
“Therefore, we want to encourage them to share their stories to help us monitor the situation and use our powers to create improvements.”
To contact Healthwatch Brighton and Hove, call 01273 234040 from 10am to noon, Monday to Friday, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.