Second Virgin Care practice in Essex rated inadequate by CQC

A GP practice in Essex run by Virgin Care has been rated inadequate by the CQC - less than six months after another practice run by the private provider in the same county was also placed in special measures.

Inspectors who visited the Church Lane Surgery, in Braintree, found a 'lack of leadership' and safety systems that were 'inadequate and did not ensure that patients and staff would be kept safe from harm'.

Inspectors found almost 2,000 patient letters that had not been actioned by a GP, 588 test results awaiting review and 1,500 sets of patient notes waiting to be transferred or assessed on the day of inspection.

There was 'no effective system in place' to manage these patient notes and no system in place to ensure letters were dealt with in a timely manner, with a 'protracted delay in sending the referral letters which led to potential risks to patient safety', the CQC found.

CQC rating

Safeguarding at the practice needed to improve, its system for ensuring medicines were stored safely was not adequate and staff reported lessons were not learned from significant events - while QOF and patient survey scores were 'significantly lower than local and national averages'.

The CQC said Virgin Care had produced a satisfactory short-term action plan the Church Lane Surgery and would therefore not face 'more serious enforcement action' at this stage. However, the practice has been placed in special measures and could be stripped of the contract if it fails to improve over the next six months.

The report on the Church Lane Surgery comes just five months after GPonline reported that another practice run by Virgin Care - the Sutherland Lodge practice in nearby Chelmsford - had been rated inadequate. The Sutherland Lodge inadequate rating came just 18 months after the practice was rated outstanding under a GP partnership that gave up its contract because of significant funding cuts.

Hundreds of patients quit the Sutherland Lodge practice after it was taken over by Virgin Care, with neighbouring practices reporting increased pressure as a result. Virgin Care took over both Sutherland Lodge and the Church Lane Surgery in 2016.


A spokesperson for Virgin Care said the provider was 'determined' to turn around services at the Church Lane Surgery.

Practice manager Christian Ellwood, said the rating was 'disappointing'. He added: 'We have a comprehensive action plan in place and we welcome the CQC’s report, which confirms that we are focused on the right areas to improve the services we deliver to our patients. We will work with the CQC as we strive towards a good or, in time, outstanding rating for Church Lane Surgery.'

Mid Essex CCG also called the rating disappointing and said it was 'working closely with the provider of services at Church Lane Surgery to ensure improvement plans, which are already in place and well underway, continue to lead to improvements in the areas highlighted by the CQC'.

Dr Hannah Casey, vice chair of North Essex LMC, said it was 'really disappointing and sad' to see the poor rating at the Church Lane Surgery. Dr Casey told GPonline she had been a partner at the St Lawrence Surgery - which was renamed Church Lane when it moved in 2017.

The St Lawrence Surgery received a positive CQC report in 2014 before the Ofsted-style scoring regime took effect. Dr Casey said: 'It's really disappointing. To see it go from what we felt was a good surgery within three or four years to inadequate is very disappointing, and very sad for the patients.'

Virgin Care runs two further GP practices in Essex, which have been rated 'good' by the CQC. Sutherland Lodge is still rated inadequate, but a follow-up visit over the summer found it had made 'effective improvements' and had complied with a warning notice issued after being rated inadequate.

Fewer than one in a hundred GP practices across England are rated inadequate - with 96% rated good or outstanding, a CQC report said earlier this week.

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