GPs merger a ‘challenge’, but hard work continues

One of the Alnwick Medical Group buildings, which previously housed the Infirmary Drive medical practice.
One of the Alnwick Medical Group buildings, which previously housed the Infirmary Drive medical practice.

The merger of Alnwick’s two GP practices has been a challenge, but there’s a ‘real willingness for everyone to work hard to make it work’.

The town’s Infirmary Drive Medical Group and The Bondgate Practice announced that they were joining forces in February this year and the new united service – Alnwick Medical Group – launched in July.

Having spoken to Alnwick town councillors to explain the proposals back in March, staff returned to last Thursday’s meeting to reflect on progress after a little over three months of the new regime.

One of the partners, Dr Graham Syers, said: “It’s fair to say it has been a challenge.

“We had two organisations with their own cultures for the past 20 years so it was always going to be difficult and we’ve had a lot of work to do, we still have a lot of work to do, but there’s a real willingness for everyone to work hard to make it work.”

He explained that there have been some added difficulties unrelated to the merger with two permanent GPs and one permanent nurse practitioner on maternity leave from what was ‘already a difficult staffing rota’.

“Finding locums is a real challenge,” said Dr Syers. “What people will be noticing is that it’s harder to see the doctor that they regularly saw before, but that’s because they are spread more thinly.”

However, there is a new doctor starting soon and it’s hoped its status as a training practice, which is currently on hiatus but helps bring in newly-trained GPs, will start up again at the end of next year when a GP trainer has qualified.

General manager Tony Brown added: “It is difficult to plan for every eventuality.”

He said that the feedback in 2015 suggested that people couldn’t get an appointment for weeks and couldn’t get seen for an urgent appointment on the same day, but following the merger, there are now an extra 750 to 900 patient contacts taking place each week – equivalent to around 40,000 a year.

“We have increased the access, which has unleashed some demand that we didn’t know was there,” he said.

“It’s a bit of a work in progress, but I can’t congratulate our staff enough.”

He underlined that his original commitment that no staff were being made redundant had been kept and that, in fact, three extra receptionists are being taken on to deal with the demand.

“I can’t say that in six months we will have cracked it and I don’t think we have it cracked in six years,” Mr Brown said. “What I can say is that we will keep on trying.”

Dr Syers pointed out that the very best way to reduce the demand is prevention – ensuring that the population is as healthy as possible and this is where the town council could have an impact in terms of issues such as ensuring there are good footpaths and cycle routes around the town.

Town councillors were largely complimentary about the service being provided by the practice, with many in favour of the new telephone system that enabled them in many cases to get a response more quickly than before.

In response to a question, Mr Brown confirmed that other forms of contact are being developed.

“There’s going to be scope for contact with people in very different ways,” he said.