The closure of the eleventh GP surgery in Brighton and Hove since 2015 has prompted fresh debate about how it impacts on vulnerable people reaching a doctor.
Councillors requested a report into what is causing behind the spate of closures and mergers, the latest of which will see Matlock Road Surgery close and its 3,000 patients transferred elsewhere.
Withdean ward Green councillor Sarah Nield raised patient concerns about Matlock Road Surgery closing at Brighton and Hove City Council’s Health and Wellbeing Board.
The board, which includes members of the city’s NHS clinical commissioning group (CCG) heard how a struggle to recruit new GPs as partners is one of the reasons the surgery is closing.
It has been run singlehandedly by general practitioner (GP) Dr Paul Allan, who does not want to take on a new lease without another partner.
The lease on its building is ending in March next year and the surgery will merge with the Beaconsfield Medical Practice based in Preston Road.
Councillor Nield raised the issue of so many practices closing in the last ten years with small surgeries being “absorbed” into bigger hubs which are further away.
She asked if it was possible to have more branch surgeries for older and frailer people who struggle to make long journeys.
She said: “It seems that this is a trend which is going to continue, and the problems it creates are going to get worse as our population ages.
“What is the plan for how to keep primary care within reach of those who need it?”
Committee chair Labour councillor Clare Moonan agreed there is city-wide concern about surgeries merging.
Councillor Moonan read out the CCGs response, which said it was “committed to ensuring access to local GP appointments”.
The CCG explained there is a national problem when it comes to recruiting GPs to work in partnerships, particularly in smaller surgeries.
Patients will not be required to register with the new surgery but be transferred over unless they choose to opt for a doctor’s with more direct links to public transport.
In its response the CCG pointed out patients from Matlock Road will have access to a wider range of services once they are integrated into the Beaconsfield practice.
Councillor Nield was particularly concerned about bus routes.
She said: “It is the accessibility issue I am bringing up. I am pleased there is some consideration to bus routes with people being offered an alternative.”
Clinical chair of the CCG Dr David Supple described the merger as a “pragmatic market situation” to help doctors work safely.
In response to Councillor Nield’s question about branch surgeries, he said the way GPs work has changed a lot in the last 20 years and branch surgeries are not how the NHS is structured today.
He said: “The new cohort of doctors will not work in a branch surgery. You cannot recruit to a big surgery with a branch.
“They are much more used to working with nurses and phlebotomists.”
Councillor Moonan asked the CCG to provide a paper explaining mergers and surgery closures for the next Health and Wellbeing Board meeting.