Published: 15:00, 11 September 2017
All the doctors in a Kent town have taken the drastic decision of telling NHS bosses they will not take any more patients.
Seven surgeries in Folkestone want to close their patient lists over concerns for patient safety and have told the NHS that urgent changes are needed.
Doctors say taking patients who are being "forcefully allocated" to other surgeries in the town will make GP services unsafe.
The GP crisis in the town continues to deepen after practice managers announced the closure of the Folkestone East Family Practice in May.
The surgeries said they will be taking the "unprecedented action" in applying to the South Kent Coast Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to close their patient lists.
They told managers they had "no other option in the interest of patient safety" and formally requested to close their lists to accept new patients.
Last week, we reported how Labour predicted a "catastrophic failure" of local GP services in Folkestone.
Laura Davison, Labour’s candidate in Folkestone and Hythe for June’s general election, said allocating more patients to already overstretched practices “will put people’s safety at risk”.
Now the seven surgeries - Central Surgery, Guildhall Street Surgery, Manor Clinic, The New Surgery, Park Farm Surgery and Sandgate Road Surgery in Folkestone and the Hawkinge and Elham Surgery - have said the action to close their lists is "a last resort".
The only Folkestone surgery not included in the statement is the Folkestone East Family Practice.
It said: "We all feel that as a consequence of the national GP shortage which has been acutely felt in Folkestone, with a shortage of 16 full time equivalent GPs we have no other option in the interest of patient safety.
"We have actively engaged with senior members of South Kent Coast CCG, Shepway council, East Kent University Hospital Foundation Trust, Patient Participation Groups, Damian Collins MP and other stakeholders for over a year, highlighting the crisis.
"The practices have advised the CCG throughout that we are unable to take on more patients safely without long term investment in clinical staff as well as infrastructure to ensure the safe integration of these patients without jeopardising patient care for all residents of Folkestone."
It comes after figures revealed more than half of GP surgeries would consider suspending new patients from registering, while 44% would favour applying to NHS England for a formal and permanent list closure.
A survey by the British Medical Association (BMA) published last week revealed the shocking statistics.
Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, said surgeries were being placed under "intolerable pressure" and the results of the survey sounded a clear warning to the government.
He added: "The fact that even a single surgery has reached the point where it would consider a suspension of new patient registration or closing its patient list fully shows that government promises to rescue GP services have failed to materialise.
"Despite the hard work of GPs, nurses and practice staff, many GP practices are struggling to cope with the rising number of patients coming through their doors because of a lack of necessary funding and widespread staff shortages."
Doctors in Folkestone have told local NHS bosses the "enforced dispersal" of patients from the Folkestone East practice to "surgeries already understaffed with clinicians" posed a "risk to patient safety".
The statement added: "Nevertheless, the CCG has decided to proceed to carry out this enforced dispersal.
"We were notified by the CCG that the patients from the former Folkestone East Family Practice will be forcefully allocated.
"This short term action will have a significant adverse effect on all patients in the area as the practices are already looking after more patients than they should with very little opportunity to recruit more clinicians."
For the full story and latest reaction to the Folkestone GP crisis, see Wednesday's Folkestone & Hythe Express.