Seven of Folkestone’s eight practices have asked commissioners at South Kent Coast CCG for permission to formally close their lists to new patients in order to maintain safe patient care.
Last week the BMA revealed that practices had voted in favour of a national co-ordinated list closure as a form of industrial action.
Across England, 54% of 1,870 responding practices said in the indicative ballot that they were prepared temporarily to suspend new patient registrations and/or to apply to their commissioner for a formal list closure, as a form of industrial action.
Practices in Folkestone are struggling with a shortage of 16 full-time equivalent GPs and are now facing a forced allocation of 4,700 patients after a practice closure in May.
The Folkestone GP Locality - a local network of practices - and the area's LMC have raised concerns about the patient distribution with commissioners.
Practices have said they cannot safely take on new patients without long-term additional investment in staff and infrastructure. The forced allocation would have a ‘significant adverse effect on all patients in the area’ the Folkestone GP Locality said.
Dr Manuel Fernandes of Manor Clinic in the town told GPonline: 'We were concerned we couldn't manage our current patients safely as it is. To have the added burden of additional patients forcibly allocated to us would mean putting patient safety at risk.'
The practices made the application over a week ago but have yet to have a response from the CCG. Commissioners have told practices that for the first year they are entitled to a standard uplift to support the allocated patients plus an extra £42.68 per patient. GPs, who already have around 2,500 patients each in the town, say this is inadequate to support the additional staff required long-term.
'It doesn't address the issue of inadequate staffing to look after patients safely,’ said Dr Fernandes.
Practices intend to inform CQC and the GMC that they believe patient safety is being put at risk.
Dr Fernandes said GPs had had a ‘fantastic response’ from patients and patient group representatives have agreed the CCG’s plans would jeopardise patient care. ‘They are already getting a petition together calling on the CCG to reconsider their decision to forcibly allocate patients,' he said.
A spokesman for South Kent Coast CCG said: 'If a GP practice feels it needs to close its patient list over a significant period, it must apply to us so we can consider the potential impact on patients and neighbouring practices and avoid displacing a problem elsewhere.
'We have received applications from seven practices in Folkestone to close their lists to new patients. These applications will be considered by the CCG and we will reply to the practices within 21 days.
'GP services everywhere are under real pressure and this is being felt particularly in Folkestone following the decision of Folkestone East Family Practice to withdraw from its contact from 1 November.
'The CCG has a duty to ensure all patients affected by the closure – up to 4,500 people - are able to continue to access local GP services after 1 November.
'Some patients will be able to register with one of the four practices that are currently accepting new patients, providing they live in the catchment area. The remainder will be allocated to other existing local practices and we are writing to all patients this week to explain this process in detail.
'To support practices to take on new patients, the CCG will pay practices an additional £42.68 per patient to support any additional costs for the first year. This compares favourably with other patient distribution investments to recognise the specific issues in Folkestone.
'The CCG is also investing £1.2million (£20 per patient) this year in new services in the town to improve care for local people and reduce the pressure on GP services.'