A GROUP of doctors have launched a scathing attack on health officials who are to penalise them for the unexpected closure of a surgery.
Hightown surgery on Brynycabanau Road was forced to shut in October due to a shortage of staff, and Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) will withhold £5,000 of funding for every month it remains shut from March.
Partners at the main Gardden Road Surgery in Rhos admit they are struggling to find doctors to work at the Hightown branch, and say to re-open it with the current level of staff would be dangerous.
The loss of funding could also spell the eventual closure of a second branch in Rhostyllen, they claim.
Partners have made an impassioned plea to bosses to let them determine what is safe for patients.
Dr Edgar Coward told the Leader: “If I was flying a plane and I thought it was unsafe to fly then it would not take off, but Betsi seem adamant that we must fly this plane.
“It’s slavish adherence to things like contracts, which are not as important when a major safety issue comes to the fore.”
Partners were asked in December to reopen the Hightown branch within 28 days, or face termination of their contract.
When the branch did not re-open, BCUHB announced it would withhold £5,000 of funding per month for every month it remains closed.
Practice manager Tracey Clark said money will be deducted from a monthly pot of funding for running costs, payment of staff and locum cover.
This figure varies from month to month, but averages at about £54,000 per month.
Mrs Clark said: “The loss of £5,000 per month poses great financial stress on the practice, which we could not sustain long-term.
“It would mean the loss of the locum GP and perhaps the loss of administration jobs, especially with the rising costs of running a business.
“There is no danger that Gardden Road Surgery would close, but our other branch surgery could close if BCUHB don’t let up on us.”
Mrs Clark said the stress of running three surgeries at once was proving too much for GPs to handle.
She said: “The computer system in Hightown was diabolical too, and there were problems accessing patients’ records.
“Plus, we were unable to have a nurse there at the same time as a doctor. So if a patient went into anaphylactic shock, for example, the doctor did not have the support he needed.”
Dr Coward added: “Anybody can walk through our doors for treatment and we can’t refuse them.
“But we cannot operate with the current number of patients. We’ve been told to find more staff, but we can’t.
“The pressure on an average working day is huge. We’re struggling and we admit that.”
Dr Coward said the completion of a multi-million pound project to transform the former Hightown flats will mean added pressure on the surgery if it re-opened.
He added: “I think they think we’re just flipping burgers at McDonald’s, but we are experienced, committed GPs.
“We’re not just mucking about on a golf course. We don’t even get to see our wives.”
Surgery partners, who also include Dr Andrew McCaddon, Dr Salah Khalifa and Dr Clipps Kamutasa, have penned a strongly-worded letter to health minister Lesley Griffiths calling for support.
It reads: “There is a serious problem of recruitment of GPs at the moment. This is not likely to improve in the foreseeable future
“The health board have now imposed a financial penalty of £60,000 per annum on our practice.
“This makes it impossible for us to consider recruiting an additional partner, which we were in the process of doing.
“We are still providing the same service, but over two sites rather than three. We have lost only 200 patients so far and have had no complaints from patients regarding the closure.
“We are in a chronic and precarious position.”
A BCUHB spokesman said: “The health board has been in ongoing discussion with the Gardden Road practice following their closure of the Hightown branch in October last year due to lack of GP availability as a result of sickness and other issues.
“We agreed a temporary closure for four weeks to allow the practice to implement actions to rectify the situation and met with the partners and agreed a plan for reopening the branch – this agreed plan was not fulfilled by the practice.
“We are now in a position where the health board has significant concerns regarding the ongoing failure of the practice to provide services in Hightown for the patients that normally attend this branch, some of whom have difficulty in travelling to the main surgery.
“It is not appropriate for us to disclose details of contractual discussions or sanctions which may be imposed on individual practices.
“However, we can confirm that where a practice has failed to meet the requirements of a remedial notice, issued under the General Medical Services Contract, then the health board is able to impose a contract sanction under the terms of that contract.”