Yorkshire Dales GP practice with over 4,000 patients forced to deny social media rumours that it is closing

A GP practice serving remote Dales communities has been forced to issue a statement after rumours spread that it was closing.

The Upper Dales Practice in Wensleydale, which has over 4,000 patients and surgeries in Hawes and Aysgarth, has taken the unusual step after social media rumours began circulating of a permanent full closure following confirmation a doctor was leaving and that pre-Covid 'open access' clinics would not return.

Practice management have assured patients that Dr Alex Scott will be replaced with a new GP and that cover is in place for all staff absences.

The full statement reads:-

Upper Dales Practice managing partner Lynn Irwin

"It is our great privilege to look after the healthcare needs of more than 4,250 patients in our wonderful Upper Dales communities. We are incredibly proud of where we live and our staff feel very much a part of the communities we serve.

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"You're our family, our friends, our neighbours. We care greatly about your health and welfare and we will always try our best to provide the best service possible to you.

"Of late, we've had to deal with some unfounded rumours and unfavourable media coverage which has created unnecessary worry and anxiety for our patients.

"Tackling this misinformation has also taken a toll on staff morale at a time when we're incredibly busy and suffering physically and mentally from the fatigue of Covid and the responsibility we took on to get vaccinations into people's arms in the Upper Dales.

"It's maybe easy to forget, but we're patients too. We're human. And sometimes when we don't feel at our best, some of the gossip and speculation we hear weighs heavier on our shoulders than might ordinarily be the case.

"We wanted to take this opportunity to address some of the rumours that have been circulating and give you the facts, in our own words, unfiltered by the media or other outside influences.

"As reported by our Patient Participation Group, Dr Scott is leaving the practice at the end of September. The process to recruit Dr Scott's replacement is already under way. In the event there are difficulties filling the post, the practice has plans in place to utilise locum cover as well as additional Advanced Nurse Practitioner support, should the need arise.

"It's worth reiterating, we do not have any staffing issues at this present time and we have cover arrangements in place for when a GP or Advanced Nurse Practitioner is on annual leave.

Contrary to some of the rumours we've heard, we are certainly not closing.

"Prior to the pandemic, we were one of only a handful of practices in North Yorkshire which ran open access clinics. It allowed patients to visit their surgery on a morning - without an appointment being necessary - and they would be seen by a doctor or nurse.

"When the clinics were busy, the waiting time to be seen was sometimes a couple of hours. However, patients still had the option to book an appointment if they didn't want to take the chance of a long wait.

"As part of our contract, we are not obliged or expected to provide open access clinics and prior to Covid, it was certainly not the norm in most other places in North Yorkshire.

"At the start of the pandemic, we had to adapt and run surgeries differently because of measures like social distancing and infection prevention and control. And like every other surgery in the country we adopted a telephone triage system.

"That allowed us to prioritise patient care based on urgency of need and carefully manage the numbers of patients we were seeing face-to-face. The last thing we wanted to do was expose patients and staff to unnecessary risk.

"It's a total myth that general practices closed their doors. Throughout the pandemic, our surgeries remained open and we continued to see patients in person if it was appropriate and there was a medical need.

"More than two years on from the start of the pandemic, Covid has not gone away. And while the vaccination programme has been an enormous success and prevented many thousands of people from becoming seriously ill and dying, some of our patients remain extremely vulnerable.

"While the worst of the pandemic is hopefully behind us, we still want to maintain some social distancing in our surgeries in order to reassure and protect those most at risk, but we cannot do that with open access clinics, so we will not be reintroducing them. It's worth noting that we have not received complaints about the withdrawal of these clinics.

"The current wait for a non-urgent routine appointment at Central Dales is around a week - though it's often less than that."

The surgery has also released statistics showing a 23 per cent rise in demand for appointments since 2020.

The departing Dr Scott was recruited from Edinburgh in 2018 during a period of concern for the practice after the retirement of a long-serving doctor and a struggle to fill their post, which at one point put the service in jeopardy. At the time, staff blamed high house prices in the Dales for deterring younger GPs, as well as the career progression opportunities in specialist areas offered by large city hospitals.

In 2021 residents raised concerns about the end of services such as ear syringing and minor injury stitching at the surgery.