I am retiring at the end of November, after thirty-four years working for the NHS. This decision is in no way due to the formation of the newly merged practice, which I whole-heartedly support and have been involved in developing.
I know that many of you have much affection for the previous, smaller surgeries, and so I will take this opportunity to briefly explain why the formation of a larger practice was necessary.
Over the last few years two things have happened: there has been less interest from young doctors in becoming GP’s, and even less interest in becoming GP partners, who have the responsibility for running the Practices. This has led to a situation where we were losing partners faster than we could replace them, and it was only a matter of time before one or more of the previous surgeries would have had to close. Added to this, the workload has steadily increased to the point where it was becoming unsustainable and doctors were struggling to cope. These factors are affecting most, if not all, practices in the County, and led us to the inescapable conclusion that we had to take significant action to stabilize our practices: making it more attractive for new doctors to join, and developing new ways of working to enable us to see patients more quickly.
The Partners, in discussion with the Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (GCCG), took the decision to merge Heathville, Barnwood, London and Saintbridge surgeries into the unified Aspen Medical Practice and change the way we work: having a team of doctors and nurses managing urgent calls to be seen the same day, and another for routine appointments, as well as a dedicated visiting doctor.
Much planning went into this merger, which took effect in June this year, but we experienced logistical difficulties with telephone systems and computers, as well as understaffing, which have led to delays in the time taken to telephone the Practice and, initially in obtaining repeat prescriptions. Although the technical problems have been largely overcome, we are still functioning with significant understaffing, both clinical and administrative, and there are still delays in the time it takes to telephone the Practice and to book an appointment. I appreciate that this has led to some patients becoming frustrated and I can assure you that we have been equally concerned by this.
The good news is that, since June, we have recruited three new GP partners and we are actively recruiting new administrative staff, as fast as we can, given the limited availability of applicants. We now offer appointments on Saturday mornings and weekday evenings. My sense is that whilst we have a significant way to go before we reach staffing levels that would make the service as good as we would like it to be, we have laid a solid foundation for future sustainability and the provision of a better service to you.
I hope this helps to explain the changes and I thank you for bearing with us during this time of transition. I feel I am leaving the Practice in safe and capable hands and I am full of admiration for the way in which the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, managers, secretaries, administrators and receptionists have stuck to their tasks, and grateful for the understanding shown by our patients.
On a personal note, I would like to say goodbye to all those patients I have seen over the years, and wish you all well for the future.
Dr Nick Gilbert