One council leader blamed the NHS for the collapse, accusing commissioners of allowing the practice to close to fit reorganisation plans. But officials have now said services may be returned to the practice.
Patients in two villages were left with without a GP when the the single partner at Harbottle practice, Dr Rina Miah, handed back her PMS contract with immediate effect in August, blaming recruitment problems and a forthcoming funding reduction.
GPonline revealed exclusively that the practice was facing losses from NHS England’s national PMS review which will remove so-called premium funds from 2015/16 for redistribution among all practices.
GP practice closure
The closure of the practice and two branches left some patients having to travel up to 17 miles to see a GP. Parts of the neighbouring village of Alwinton no longer fall within the catchment area of any practice.
Hundreds of Harbottle’s 830 patients are reportedly refusing to sign up with a new doctor in protest at the closure. Last week around 300 attended a public meeting to discuss the closure with NHS officials.
Harbottle and Alwinton parish councils are now taking legal advice on seeking a judicial review into decisions made leading up to the closure. The two councils have scheduled meetings Friday to decide whether to go ahead with legal action.
Harbottle council chairman Simon Kenny told GPonline he hoped the threat of legal action would ‘concentrate minds’ higher up in the NHS to take the situation more seriously.
GP legal action
Mr Kenny said he believed NHS commissioners had been aware of serious problems at the practice for some time but had wanted to see it close in order to boost patient numbers for a planned new medical centre in a nearby village.
‘I think they have known there have been problems for a while,' said Mr Kenny. ‘But I think they were petrified - they wanted an excuse to close it dramatically for fear if they didn't there would be pressure to keep it open as there has been on previous occasions.’
Mr Kenny accused NHS England of refusing to accept an offer by Dr Miah to work a reduced notice period rather than close immediately. ‘One wonders why the three-month notice period was not acceptable to them,' he said. ‘You have to assume they were keen to see the practice close as part of a reorganisation, and took this opportunity.’
A locum GP who had previously worked for the practice has said he would be willing to help continue services in the village.
NHS England Cumbria and the North East’s director of commissioning Christine Keen said: 'Over the past few weeks there have been exceptional circumstances in Harbottle Surgery. NHS England has written to, and met with, patients and stakeholders to explain the context of this and to provide reassurance about what is happening with GP services in the area.
‘Our primary and immediate concern has been to ensure patients are registered with another GP practice. We have now advised stakeholders and patients that we are currently in discussion about how some services may be provided from Harbottle surgery and, together with Northumberland CCG, we are fully committed to keeping people informed about the future provision of primary care in Northumberland.
‘The shape of future services will always be informed by talking with relevant organisations, representatives and groups.’