This week the Folkestone East Family GP practice will close its doors, and from 1st November, the doctors based there will be working from the Sandgate Road surgery. Nobody wants to see a GP surgery close, but since the decision was made by the GPs to end their contract, the priority of the South Kent Coast Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has been to complete the process of allocating all of the 4,700 patients registered at Folkestone East, to a new practice. At the time of writing this article the CCG had completed the allocation of 3,208 patients to alternative local practices. This includes all of the 1,143 patients registered at Folkestone East who were considered to be vulnerable because they would have difficulty going through the full allocation process. This could be because they are housebound, have a mental health problem or learning disability, or do not speak English. It is important to note though that any patient from Folkestone East who has not been allocated to a GP will still be able to access GP services through any practice in their area, as an ‘immediate and necessary’ patient. Practices have a contractual duty to provide this under the ‘Essential Services’ section of their General Medical Services NHS contract. As we have said throughout this whole process, all patients will continue to have access to local GP services.
In terms of the process of allocation itself, all patients have to give their consent in order to be join a new surgery and it is important that those patients who are yet to respond to the CCG do so. The CCG is writing again to all of the patients on the Folkestone East list who are yet to be allocated a new GP, reminding them to complete their form and offering advice on how to access temporary GP care if required. The CCG is currently managing to process allocations within 24 hours, and is also dedicating resources to support this, including helping individual GP practices with registering new patients, commissioning an external provider to manage the administration process, hosting and staffing registration events, and investing in additional IT support and equipment to allow Folkestone East to transfer patient records and other information to the Sandgate Road surgery by their desired date.
Technically deductions can only be made from the Folkestone East patient list once the receiving practices have completed the paperwork, so there may be patients who are already in the process of being transferred, but they are not yet recorded in the official figures as having been reallocated. The CCG also believes that around 700 of the patients who are yet to respond to the request that they select a practice they would like to be allocated to, maybe people who have moved away from the area, but not changed their GP registration.
On Tuesday this week, I will be meeting in parliament with Hazel Carpenter, the Accountable Officer for the South Kent Coast CCG, along with other leading NHS executives in East Kent, to discuss this process, and their future plans to meet the healthcare needs of local residents. As I have written before in this column, GP practices in Folkestone will also receive a 50% increase over the next year in the funding per patient they receive, in order to help manage the transition of taking on additional patients.