A GPs’ surgery is ending its contract to provide emergency cover at Alnwick Infirmary.
The Infirmary Drive Medical Group has given six months’ notice to Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust to end its daytime cover so GPs can spend more time with registered patients.
This means that while night and weekend cover is provided by Northern Doctors Urgent Care (NDUC), a new partner will need to be found to provide the service during weekdays.
Concerns have been raised about the change but the Trust has said it is in talks with other partners and pledged patients will not be affected.
Local MP Sir Alan Beith said: “I am extremely concerned by this development and it is very important we do not have any repeat of what happened when the GP out-of-hours system changed.”
In 2004, the Labour Government offered GPs a new contract but did not include a requirement to provide cover at night and many decided not to.
Instead locum and GP-cover companies were established to provide the service at an additional cost to the NHS, which led to the start of NDUC.
Sir Alan added: “Local GPs have been very accessible to the hospital and have worked alongside the dedicated nursing staff to provide a vital service.
“I am raising the issue with Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and the Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group, because it is vital that both Alnwick and Berwick Infirmaries have access to a doctor nearby, not a doctor travelling up from Newcastle as often happens with the out-of-hours service.
“This change could result in even more patients having to be taken by ambulance to distant hospitals when they could be treated locally.”
There are also fears that this could be the start of permanently removing cover at Alnwick.
Town and county councillor Gordon Castle said: “The concern is that if this particular practice is finding it can’t cope, what practice will? I hope this isn’t a step on the road to removing cover at Alnwick altogether.”
Coun Heather Cairns added: “I think it is a great pity that local doctors are no longer able to serve their local community in full.”
A spokeswoman for Infirmary Drive Medical Group said: “We have had to take the difficult decision to give notice to Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust to withdraw our services at Alnwick Infirmary as we feel we have to focus on our registered patients at our GP practice.
“We have really enjoyed working with Northumbria Healthcare and will be working closely with them over the next six months to ensure that there is a continuation of service for the people of Alnwick in the future.”
A spokeswoman for Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust said: “Due to current pressures, our colleagues at Infirmary Drive Medical Group have given us six months’ notice on their contract to provide certain GP support services at Alnwick Infirmary.
“We are now working closely with our commissioners, NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group, to ensure that arrangements are in place once the current contract comes to an end and we are already in discussion with other partners to ensure there is no disruption for patients.”
Hilary Brown, north locality director for NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “We commission a minor injury service at Alnwick Infirmary from Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust which, while it has GPs providing medical cover, the majority of care is delivered by nurses.
“As the provider of the minor injury service, Northumbria Healthcare will put in place a solution to ensure that the minor injury service continues and we are assured that they will do this without any break in service provision for patients.
“Local people can be confident that they will continue to receive a high-quality service.”