NHS England has apologised for the confusion over letters sent to patients of Burton Road Surgery in Lincoln, which caused concern among county council members over the future of the surgery.
NHS England outlined the possible steps regarding the GP’s closure at a Lincolnshire County Council Health Scrutiny Committee meeting on June 25.
The meeting, chaired by Councillor Christine Talbot, saw representatives Dianne Pegg and Andrew Leary from NHS England challenged over conflicting letters and questioned over the decision.
Some patients received the first letter dated May 27 2014, and addressed to ‘the occupier’, detailing the surgery’s closure in September 2014.
Shortly after, some of the 2,700 residents registered at the surgery received a second letter, dated June 5, which said a final decision had not been made.
The second letter urged people to ask the surgery for a copy of a consultation form and that other options were being looked into with the hope to extend the services provided by the surgery.
Lincolnshire County Council, who expressed concern over the lack of public consultation or transparency, called on NHS England to account for the events which lead to the decision.
Lincoln politicians also spoke out against the planned closure, impressing the need to continue a service to people from the surgery or an address in close proximity.
Members of the public, committee members and councillors attended the scrutiny meeting on June 25 to put across the concerns made by the Lincoln community.
The committee’s Chairman, Councillor Talbot, said:
“I feel great disappointment about the way in which the situation has been handled.
“The area team announced the decision to close the surgery had been made without consultation and the letter wasn’t even addressed to the individual patients.
“I feel the patients have been treated badly and there has been no transparency.”
Labour Councillor for Lincoln West, Robert Parker, was elected to speak at the meeting.
He said: “My questions regard the moral basis on which the decision has been made.
“Huge organisations such as the NHS need to have values and to treat people with respect as human beings.
“In this case people feel absolutely powerless and it’s no good conducting a consultation after you have already told them it’ll be closed.
Across Lincolnshire, NHS England manage five GPs on time-restricted contracts.
While a 12-month renewal of all five contracts was made with a pending finish date of March 2015, providers of the Burton Road surgery, Lincolnshire Community Health Services (LCHS), terminated their contract with three months notice in June 2014.
Director of Finance and Commissioning at NHS England, Andrew Leary, said: “We have not had the luxury of time and the priority is making sure that patients have somewhere to go should the surgery close.
“The contract was terminated early by the contractor, with three months notice. They said they could not provide the service any longer. They are not obligated to provide us with a reason for this.
“Closing the surgery remains a last resort and we are looking for another practice to be a ‘care taker’ for 6 months while we look for another provider.
“We have been clear to say it’s confusing, but we want to make sure that we are doing our best to find a ‘care taking’ body so that we can extend the service.”
Head of Primary Care at NHS England, Dianne Pegg, added: “All we can do is apologise about the confusion over the letters.
“We can’t say if it’s closing or not yet, but LCHS will not be the providers as of September 30, 2014.
“We do not believe this is a financial issue. The funding will follow the patients wherever they go.
“We’ve learned a lot from this and we will be looking into feedback that some people did not receive their letters. We are asking if there is anyone out there who can provide the service.”
The meeting was concluded with the request by Cllr Talbot of a further meeting with the Chief Executive of the LCHS.
While NHS England assure Lincolnshire County Council that closure was due to early contract termination, LCHS say they were issued a closure notice from NHS England on May 2014.
Andrew Morgan, Chief Executive of LCHS NHS Trust, said: “Lincolnshire Community Health Services NHS Trust was issued with a closure notice for Burton Road Surgery from NHS England, who commission the service, in May this year.
“The closure notice indicated a closure date of September 30, 2014, on the basis that the service would no longer be commissioned.
“Since that time, there have been ongoing discussions about extending this date. However, since the NHS England process to consult on future provision of the service began, staff have been exploring alternative employment options and patients have been making other arrangements for their future care.
“The trust is concerned this would make it very difficult to continue to maintain safe and effective services for patients beyond September 30, which meet patient expectations, LCHS standards and regulatory requirements.
“The Trust would like to reaffirm its commitment to work with NHS England to make sure that patients are well looked after.”