All the borough’s GP practices are to become part of a wider grouping of surgeries, with five co-operating groups covering the whole of Doncaster – and extended opening hours will be part of the changes.
The system will mean groups of practices, called Primary Care Networks, will be linking up in Central Doncaster (around 60,000 patients), East Doncaster (around 56,000 patients), North Doncaster (around 74,000 patients), and South Doncaster (around 71,000 patients).
There will also be a grouping of four of the borough’s largest town centre practices which are clustered around the Thorne Road area, which will be called 4Doncaster, and will be made up of the Kingthorne, St Vincent, Mount and Burns practices, That will have around 50,000 patients.
It comes into effect on Monday, July 1.
The link-ups will give the practices joint access to Government money which is aimed at large practices of over 50,000 patients.
Under the change, all practices will have to offer some appointments outside the usual core hours of 8am until 6pm.
Other changes from next week will be both a shared pharmacist and a ‘social prescriber’ for each of the groups, which are intended to take some of the pressure of the doctors by offering alternatives to seeing the GP.
Social prescribers are professionals who look to deal with social issues affecting patients such as loneliness, by finding solutions. In the past, this work has often fallen to doctors.
Bentley GP Dr David Crichton, who chairs the Doncaster NHS Clinical Commissioning Group, said the new set-up allows GPs to access additional funding.
He said: “From next week, there will be extra members of staff available. They will be community assets that practices will be able to use together. We had already done a lot of work to align practices.
“This is just the start. In the future we want to bring in physicians associates, physiotherapists, and community paramedics.
“I think the biggest change that people will notice on July 1 will be all practices having extended opening hours on some days.”
Practices will all have to either provide that themselves or within their network. Some are already doing extended hours, and the provision will be in addition to additional appointments which were brought in last autumn on Saturdays.
Dr Crichton said it was a very different direction of travel.
He said: “I think it’s a good thing. We’ve gone down from 43 practices to 40 in recent months, and we know that small practices have been struggling. This is about making general practice and care more resilient. It means smaller practices can work together as part of a bigger group.”
Doncaster has seen a fall in the number of GPs working in the borough in recent years, largely due to retirements, and there are concerns it could see a similar issue with nurses.
Earlier this year, Dr Dean Eggitt, the chief executive of the Doncaster Local Medical Committee, which represents the interest of the borough’s family doctors, said it had been estimated the borough had lost 30 per cent of GPs in the last five years. It used to have 240, adding there were concerns it could see a similar problem with practice nurses because so many of them were hitting retirement age.
Training schemes are being put in place to address the issue of nurses.