Alnwick councillors back merger of GP practices

Bondgate Practice doctor Adam Henry, Infirmary Drive practice manager Sophie Jerrom, Bondgate Practice manager Tony Brown and reception manager at Infirmary Drive Kim Hall.
 Picture by Jane Coltman
Bondgate Practice doctor Adam Henry, Infirmary Drive practice manager Sophie Jerrom, Bondgate Practice manager Tony Brown and reception manager at Infirmary Drive Kim Hall. Picture by Jane Coltman

Work is ongoing to look at the possibility of providing out-of-hours GP services in Alnwick and the surrounding areas.

Tony Brown, manager at the Bondgate Practice, said that he is involved in discussions with other surgeries, in the likes of Amble, Felton and Rothbury, about providing an extended service, such as 8am to 8pm or on Saturdays, potentially either virtually or by phone.

The news came as part of an update to Alnwick Town Council last week, which mainly focused on the proposed merger of the town’s two practices, currently out for consultation.

As previously reported by the Gazette, The Bondgate Practice and Infirmary Drive Medical Group are to merge in a bid to ‘secure the services we offer in the town for generations’.

If all goes to plan, the new united service – to be called Alnwick Medical Group – will launch on July 1 this year.

And following the update at last Thursday’s town-council meeting, members agreed to write a letter of support for the move.

Mr Brown, who was accompanied at the meeting by Dr Chris Wilson, said that the reasons behind the change were the health economy – less funding for GPs but a higher demand for services, to improve quality and ‘to drive forward healthcare in Alnwick’ and ‘really be in control of how we deliver it’.

“We know we can deliver a better quality of service,” he added, citing the reduced administration costs and the greater choice for patients, among other advantages.

The public engagement is to last six weeks, which would normally be longer, but the merger isn’t seen as controversial by NHS England due to the fact that there will be no change to staffing and the two practices already run the same appointments and computer systems.

Dr Wilson said: “This is about quality; quality is about improving the service, making it as good as we can.

“It’s also about sustaining the service because one of the big issues with primary care in a rural area is recruitment.”

He pointed out that of the 10 GPs in Alnwick, seven were trainees in the town, either staying or returning later, but it highlights how attractive it is to work in the town to those that have been here.

Dr Wilson added: “If we are a beacon of healthcare then people are going to want to come.”

Both practice buildings are to remain open, but it may be that certain patients or type of appointments are dealt with in a specific location. There are no plans for a new facility, but Dr Wilson said that looking five to 10 years ahead, once Berwick is sorted, Alnwick Infirmary ‘might be ripe’ for redevelopment.