GPs join forces to preserve quality care in county

GPs across Ipswich and east Suffolk have joined forces and decided fight together under one standard to preserve the commitment, passion and quality of Suffolk’s primary care.

Why do we need to do this?
You might think that since GPs are the driving force behind CCGs that general practice has nothing to fear. The problem is that CCGs are really committed local foot soldiers who have to obey orders from the generals at NHS England. They have commanded a ‘tender process’ for a mass of primary care that is the bread and butter work of practices across the county. Services like flu-jabs, learning disability medicals and health checks won’t be offered to practices unless they win the contract.

Private companies are much more adept at writing tender documents than GPs who struggle even to write prescriptions! So insisting on competitive tenders could result in services being stripped away from general practices who might then struggle to survive. This long march could involve redundancies, reduced services and then further loss of income prior to possible bankruptcy. The reduced services phase would be particularly damaging since patients would need to go to hospital more for primary care procedures like blood tests, ECGs, dressings and nursing care including currently underfunded tests like spirometry for breathing problems.

This would be a massive retreat! So it must be realised that surrendering to the private companies could have desperate implications for Suffolk people. We need to get our heads around this now and re-arm – and not when it is too late!

So what is the counterattack strategy?
Suffolk GPs have always operated independently. The Federation idea was proposed by the Royal College of GPs as a way of sharing resources to tackle the big issues together while not interfering with the traditional care in the consulting room. The model has been sensitively applied to Ipswich and east Suffolk to preserve the best of general practice recognising that we have to play by the rules that the generals have decreed.

What will this mean?
It means that the Suffolk Federation will prepare bids for the primary care services that will now have to be tendered. The contracts will be managed by our Federation to ensure that quality care is delivered across the patch. This may involve sharing some expert staff to deliver particular services but we have the capacity and depth of talent already in the workforce.

It is very much hoped that GPs in the west will also want to join so we can have representation for all Suffolk GPs.

Is this all a money-making enterprise for the GPs?
This is really about damage limitation not new income since practice incomes are falling and are destined to fall further.

The Suffolk Federation is not going to be a limited company but a not-for-profit Community Interest Company owned by all the GPs and run in a democratic way so each practice has one vote. We do hope this strategy will help primary care to thrive and not wither which will be for the benefit of all the residents of Suffolk.

What can the Suffolk GP Federation do attract new GPs to Suffolk?
Now all 40 of the Ipswich and East Suffolk general practices have joined together in this ‘not for profit’ Federation, there is a real opportunity to strengthen primary care in Suffolk.

Working together will help the group find solutions to some major challenges threatening General Practice which include GP recruitment and retention.

In Suffolk every fourth practice is missing a whole time equivalent GP. Without vibrant well staffed GP surgeries we will be unable to deliver the new commissioning ideas being implemented by the Clinical Commissioning Boards. The Federation hope to encourage more GPs into Suffolk whilst findings ways of keeping those we have! Nearly a quarter of the county’s work force is over 55 years and we don’t want to loose these experienced doctors.

The Federation is developing attractive positions for young GPs that will involve academic work with UEA or UCS and a spell abroad in either New Zealand or Australia before they hopefully settle in Suffolk. The Federation is committed to improving standards and it is recognised that this will require both hard and imaginative work.

A GP’s diagnosis by John Havard of Saxmundham Health

EADT Dr Havard column