GP crisis in Banbury forces major shake up by health chiefs

Banbury Health Centre ENGNNL00120110407165225
Banbury Health Centre ENGNNL00120110407165225

NHS health chiefs are starting a revamp of family doctor services in Banbury in a bid to stave off a growing crisis in primary care.

The parlous state of many of the town’s GP surgeries is a major concern for Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG) as GPs leave or retire with little or no success in efforts to recruit replacements.

In its plans, the OCCG is encouraging new ways of modifying work in ‘fast-towns’ such as Bicester.

In Banbury its is seeking to amalgamate two practices under a local private management organisation.

And Banbury Health Centre – formerly the Darzi Centre which opens 365 days a year offering long opening hours and allowing unregistered people to get appointments – may go, with its services amalgamated with the two merged surgeries.

OCCG head of primary care Julie Dandridge told Banburyshire’s health watchdog group, the Community Partnership Network, Banbury is a ‘challenged area’.

She said the private company Principal Medical Ltd (PML) was set to take over two surgeries – West Bar and Woodlands in Grimsbury.

And after consultation, the Banbury Health Centre may eventually join the two as one practice to achieve economies of scale – savings by ending duplication of ‘back office’ functions.

“The challenges around primary care are known to most, one around workforce, one around the older generation having more complex needs, with housing growth and the increasing population – all of which is leading to increased demand and increased need for primary care,” said Ms Dandridge.

She said West Bar and Woodlands were working closely with PML in trying to produce a new approach to ‘sustainable primary care’ – having larger practices and being able to be ‘more creative’ with patient budgets.

“One of the solutions we’re still working towards is potentially PML will run a joint practice between Woodlands and West Bar to be able to promote more services,” she said.

Ms Dandridge said the problems Oxford had in recruiting hospital staff were reversed in Banbury where the problem lay in difficulty recruiting GPs.

“Banbury Health Centre was set up as one of the Darzi Centres in 2009 and whilst it provides some primary care services it also provides some additional services including extended hours, particularly on Saturday and Sunday, and it’s open to unregistered patients,” said Ms Dandridge.

However unlike other practices, its contract is time-limited, she said, so the OCCG needs to make a decision on its future and provide the best services for the wider community.

Options are:

• Close the health centre and disperse the 6,130 patients among other practices.

• Contract a different practice to take on the patients and run a branch surgery.

• Invite bids to take over the health centre contract for a further fixed-term period.

• Merge with one or more other practices.

The centre has been working already with Woodlands and West Bar practices as it develops its own proposals for ‘working at scale’.

A full consultation will be held but patients’ views are already being sought through the patient participation groups.

Ms Dandridge said the OCCG plans would be taken to the meeting of the Oxfordshire Joint Health and Scrutiny Committee – made up of elected councillors. This will be held at Bodicote House in November.