UPDATED: Leighton surgeries put forward merger plan

Leighton Road Surgery
Leighton Road Surgery

Two GP surgeries in Leighton Buzzard are planning to merge in a dramatic move which they say has been forced on them by dwindling NHS funding.

The submission by Leighton Road Surgery (which includes a branch at Ridgeway Court) and Grovebury Road Surgery was due to go before the contracts panel of NHS England yesterday.

It is expected NHS England will reach a decision on the application sometime in January. The two surgeries cater for more than 22,000 patients between them.

Dr Tariq Hafez, partner at Leighton Road Surgery, told the LBO the move was to safeguard services in the face of growing cuts.

He said: “Unfortunately with this government we’re looking at another four years of culls on funding.

“It isn’t the favourite subject of any politician to talk about, cutting health services, and they avoid using these words but the funding has been pushed as much as it can.”

Dr Hafez stated that the merger would allow doctors and nurses at both surgeries to make use of shared resources and a stronger administrative team back of house.

He said: “This has been happening all over the country, there are growing numbers of surgeries merging together.

“Part of our aim is for patients not to notice the difference or receive a better service. We won’t be looking at closing down any of these buildings or making any staff redundant.”

Across the country there is an average 12% vacancy for GP posts. Encouraging junior doctors to stay within the NHS is also becoming a challenge, not least with government plans to alter contracts next year.

Stephen King, business manager at Leighton Road Surgery, said: “I’d say because of the lack of funding, those doctors that have been trained don’t stay in the UK.

“I have a locum at the moment who, when he finishes, will relocate outside the UK because he’ll get a lot more money.”

Dr Hafez added: “If you look at how much GDP other European countries pay for their health, you find the UK pays the least.

“There is this growing gap between what we need to get and what we’re getting. People need to understand this is really a funding crisis. There is medical inflation, prices go up by 6-8% every year.

“So if you freeze things or give only a 3% rise then you’re still cutting it.”

All four surgeries in the town have been faced with the prospect of ever-more patients as the population is set to rise with the East of Leighton development.

Dr Hafez added: “Any practice can take on a few more patients.

“But if somebody builds a great big housing estate and one of the GP practices fails, you’ve got 7,000 patients looking for a place to go.

“That is undoable. And that will trip up the next surgery down the line.

“To avoid these kinds of things happening, we’re having to think several years ahead. Just to stay still we have to make changes.”

Back in March, the LBO reported how Bassett Road Patient Participation Group was warning population growth from new developments would put Leighton’s GP surgeries at breaking point.

It took its concerns to a meeting of Leighton-Linslade Town Council.

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