Doctors surgeries in two rural Northumberland communities are set to join forces in a bid to safeguard the future of local GP care.
Allendale Medical Group and Haydon and Allen Valleys Medical Group, based nine miles away at Haydon Bridge, have revealed plans to merge with a letter sent to a council revealing both are under “significant financial threat.”
Both sites would be retained with a streamlining of management and administration to take place, rather than redundancies.
Consultation has already taken place and a decision on the proposal is expected to be made by health chiefs immininently.
The move was last night applauded by a local councillor who praised the practices for seeking to face up to their financial predicaments.
Plans for the merger of the Health Centre on North Bank, Haydon Bridge and 2,300 patient Allendale Health Centre on Shilburn Road - which covers 100 square miles, were outlined in a letter to Northumberland County Council’s care and wellbeing overview and scrutiny committee.
The letter, signed by Drs Henderson, George and Wyatt from Haydon Bridge and Drs Hadaway and Aitken from Allendale, states: “We are writing to you to inform you that we have lodged a formal business case to the North East Area Team, NHS England for the merger of our two Practices.
“We strongly believe in and are committed to maintaining local provision of high quality General Practice in both of our rural communities.
“However, both Practices are currently under significant financial threat and believe the best way to maintain a service to our rural population is through a closer working arrangement.
“Discussions have concluded that the best way to achieve this is through a formal merger.”
The letter reveals that the merger will not take place until April 2014 and that it would see the sites operate as a single practice with services offered to their combined 5,525 patients from both locations.
It adds: “We are not proposing a strategy of consolidation through redundancy, but through streamlining of administration and management and redesign of our existing business support systems.”
The letter revealed that patients were being written to and public meetings were to take place in both communities as part of consultation.
At the committee’s latest meeting, members agreed to ask for a further report once the consultation process has ended.
Last night, Anne Grieve, practice manager at both sites, declined to comment other than to say a decision is expected from NHS England this week or next.
County councillor for Allendale Colin Horncastle said: “It is a sign of the times really isn’t it, these small rural services finding it hard to survive.
“They have taken action themselves before they have had it forced on them two or three years down the line. It hopefully safeguards their future for the short and medium term.
“Many people from Allendale go to Haydon Bridge doctors and Haydon Bridge doctors will be having surgeries in Allendale. Even between them they have only got 6,000 patients and that is a small practice compared to what you have in towns and cities.
“When you think many doctors have specialities it means more people in Allendale and Haydon Bridge will have access to more people with specialities.
“If we were to lose a doctors surgery in Allendale or Haydon Bridge we would end up having to go to Hexham. I do not think people want to do that, it is out of their comfort zone.”