Published: 17:00, 30 June 2020
| Updated: 22:12, 30 June 2020
Care Quality Commission bosses say they shut down two surgeries and a practice – with a combined roll of more than 11,000 – after serious concerns were raised.
But at this stage the watchdog is unable to expand on its move to "protect patients" because private healthcare provider DMC has the right to appeal.
The immediate action was taken on Friday after the CQC liaised with NHS England and the Kent Medway Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).
Hoo St Werburgh Medical practice, and its branch surgeries at Lower Stoke and the yellow suite at Balmoral Healthy Living Centre, Gillingham, have been closed. All three have been operated by DMC since September 2018.
CQC deputy chief inspector of primary medical services,Victoria Watkins, said: "Due to concerns raised to us, inspectors visited St Werburgh Medical Practice on June 19.
"As a result of this inspection, we have taken urgent enforcement action to protect patients using services there and also at the partner surgeries of Stoke Village Hall and Balmoral Gardens.
"As with all CQC enforcement action, this is subject to appeal, it would therefore be inappropriate to comment further."
In the aftermath, concerned patients raised worries about not being able to access medical help.
One of them, Gillingham pensioner Sue Hannant, had been trying in vain for nearly a week to check out an important blood test appointment.
The 67-year-old Belmont Road resident said: "I have held on for over an hour three times and just get a constant ring tone, no queueing system.
"It's very frustrating."
On Tuesday, it was announced a temporary provider had been put in place at St Werburgh.
"As the situation develops we may need to call on other nearby surgeries for support..."
Medway Practices Alliance (MPA), a federation of surgeries and GPs across Medway, now has staff based at the premises.
It is also working with neighbouring practices The Elms Medical Centre and Highparks Medical Practice. They will supporting staff with patient care if the need arises.
CCG chief Wilf Williams said: "We had to put a temporary solution in place for a couple of days following the CQC action but in under three working days, we have a new provider ready to see patients.
“Patients will be able to book appointments and get their prescriptions as usual, including those who use apps such as Patient Access.
"Due to Covid-19, many appointments are currently being conducted virtually but if patients need to see a healthcare professional, that can be arranged by calling the main surgery.
"As the situation develops we may need to call on other nearby surgeries for support but patients will be seen at their own surgery wherever possible.”
Clinics at the branch surgeries will also be available soon but in the meantime, patients can call St Werburgh to arrange an appointment.
The other practices at Balmoral Gardens are unaffected by the CQC’s decision and operating as usual, including Green Suite.
Attempts have been made to contact DMC for comment.
Meanwhile, Labour's health spokesman has spoken out.
Cllr Teresa Murray said: "Labour councillors have been concerned about DMC for the last two years and have fought against the CCG’s attempts to close surgeries at Sunlight and Twydall, a campaign which saw the closure plans overturned.
"There has also been a long-running campaign by patients who were dissatisfied with DMC services and expressed their anger at public meetings and a Medway council scrutiny committee demanded by Labour councillors who held DMC and the CCG to account.
"Many warm promises and assurances were given by DMC supported by the CCG, that services would improve yet the national inspectorate has closed them down leaving patients floundering and very worried about where they can safely seek health advice.”
Kelly Tolhurst, MP for Rochester and Strood, is asking for weekly updates from the CCG and DMC, which runs other practices across Medway.
She said: "I understand people's concerns about GP services. I am pushing the council and CCG for a proper, long-term strategy for primary care to cope with our expanding population."