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Fears for thousands of patients after GPs walk and Aberdeen practice on the ‘brink of collapse’

Pauline Carroll is "horrified and appalled" at the prospect of change at Old Aberdeen Medical Practice.
Pauline Carroll is "horrified and appalled" at the prospect of change at Old Aberdeen Medical Practice.

Devastated patients fear one of Aberdeen’s biggest and best doctors’ surgeries may be left “on the brink” after some of its longest-serving GPs left amidst a shake-up of its management.

Five have resigned from Old Aberdeen Medical Practice, which is one of six run by NHS Grampian and the City Health and Social Care Partnership (ACHSCP), in a matter of days.

Health chiefs could next week begin a search for other GP practices to take over the clinics, as part of work to address staffing issues and increasing patient lists.

ACHSCP officials have recommended members of the integration joint board (IJB) – which oversees their work – vote through the £5.8 million plans at a meeting on Tuesday.

They would affect a number of medical practices in the city, with Camphill, Carden, Marywell, Torry and Whinhill the others in question.

Chief officer Sandra Macleod’s report indicates one of the six – understood to be Old Aberdeen – requested not to be included in the reorganisation.

Her report warns the recommended tendering process risked staff turnover through “dissatisfaction” during the process – with the option to bring together the practices  the lowest ranked of all options presented to staff.

But Ms Macleod said it could lead to innovative solutions, increased stability, free up cash, and practices falling in line with the preferred practice management agreed with Scotland’s GPs in 2018.

The Sunnybank Road clinic – one of the city’s largest – serves 10,900 patients from Old Aberdeen, Seaton, Rosemount and Tillydrone, from the local community and a huge student population from nearby Aberdeen University.

“Complete collapse” fears for surgery

A source close to staff there told The Press And Journal they feared it would lead to a “complete collapse” of the surgery.

They added: “They can’t stand the stress any longer, the uncertainty over their futures and feeling they might be out of a job or that the practice will close.

“They feel it has been brought about by a sham consultation, running since July – and all in the midst of the pandemic.”

For many practices, ACHSCP management has come at a time of crisis in an effort to maintain access to doctors – as was seen in Torry in 2018 and at Carden early this year.

But in Old Aberdeen, it has been a cause of consistency, with patients enjoying familiar faces when seeking treatment.

It is understood four doctors have resigned, destined for other city practices unaffected by the upheaval, in the last week alone – leaving patients reeling.

A community campaign has been launched, urging people to save their surgery, with those behind it saying it is now teetering “on the brink”.

This is in the name of supposed sustainability, but how can that be when the GPs are all going?”

Pauline Carroll

Pauline Carroll, a 52-year-old who has been a patient of the practice in its various forms “all her life”, told The P&J she was “horrified and appalled” at the plans.

The college worker said: “There is such a good continuity of care, as you always see the same doctors, but it sounds that is all going to go.

“My husband and kids have all been at that practice, which I think is one of the best in town given the stories I hear from friends about others.

“It is devastating to hear about one of the doctors leaving in particular, as they were so wonderful when my daughter was quite ill for a time.

“This is in the name of supposed sustainability, but how can that be when the GPs are all going?”

Another “shocked” patient, who asked not to be named, said: “I have always been impressed by the special relationship these GPs and nurses have with their community.

“That doesn’t happen overnight or through upheaval.

“It comes from continuity of service and dedication among GPs, which means they have built stable, trusting relationships with patients over a number of years.

“I think you can easily plead a special case for the Old Aberdeen practice because it is special. There is nothing else like it.”

But the process is not new to Aberdeen.

In 2017, the Denburn Medical Practice took over the running of Northfield, merging to become one business run by GPs the following year.

Prolonged periods of health authority management are not common across Scotland, with only 4% of GP practices run this way.

Aberdeen bucks that trend, with its six ACHSCP-run centres representing 21% of all those in the city.

An ACHSCP spokesman said the potential remodelling was aimed at improving sustainability of practices  in Aberdeen.

He added: “No final decision has been taken and IJB members will decide on the matter when they meet next Tuesday to consider a detailed report and its recommendations.

“The report follows several months of engagement with the GP practices concerned and with the wider primary care community in Aberdeen.”

Recent firefighting interventions at Aberdeen medical practices could soon be over

Torry Medical Practice, Oscar Road.

A vote on the future of the six Aberdeen City Health and Social Care Partnership (ACHSCP) GP practices could mark the beginning of the end for an emergency action taken in crisis.

When long-term recruitment issues at Torry Medical Practice came to a head in February 2018, its future hung in the balance.

Long absence and another doctor retiring meant the independent team running the clinic withdrew from their contract that summer.

ACHSCP made the facility its fifth publicly-run practice, in what is usually seen as a short-term fix to right the ship.

At the time, the partnership’s deputy clinical lead, Dr Alasdair Jamieson, described it as a “great opportunity to reshape GP services to ensure they meet the needs of local people”.

But many of its 6,800 patients aired frustrations at the “shambles” in the transition.

In May, health bosses again were forced to step in – this time because they could find no one willing to take on management of the medical centre in Carden Place.

Last October, partners announced they would sever ties with the NHS – but after a months-long search no suitable candidate could be found.

It was agreed in January that ACHSCP would step in, with success in recruiting a new doctor despite hiring issues being one of the main reasons for the previous management pulling out.

Scrutiny body the integration joint board (IJB) heard in June of “stability” in Torry and a “successful transition” to partnership management at Carden.

Along with the future of “special case” Old Aberdeen, board members will next week vote on the future management of their most recent success stories.

If officer recommendations are followed, as proven with Carden Medical Centre, it might not prove easy to find companies queuing up to take them over.