A GP practice serving remote parts of the Yorkshire Dales has been handed a lifeline after taking on new staff ensured its future would be safeguarded.
Recruitment problems and the retirement of one of its family doctors meant The Central Dales Practice in Wensleydale was faced with the prospect of not being able to provide patients with appointments in both Hawes and Aysgarth.
The practice, which serves a population that is spread over 500 square miles, risked having to closed one of its surgeries after it struggled to attract job applicants.
However, both surgeries will now remain open after a new GP and nurse practitioner were found.
Dr Alex Scott is due to join the practice on Wednesday and the new nurse will start work in the autumn.
Lynn Irwin, managing partner at the practice, said: “If we hadn’t recruited him we would really have struggled to keep both surgeries open.
“We really have been quite lucky to get the people we have got. It means we are safe and stable.
“But there are not a lot of people applying for jobs.
“If we hadn’t got these people then we’d probably have had to go down a different route.
“We’ve had people retiring and we’ve been struggling to recruit.
“We got the point where we were concerned about being able to staff both surgeries.”
The problem faced by the team at the Central Dales Practice, which serves about 4,250 patients, is not unique. Scores of GP services are faced with exactly the same predicament when doctors are reaching retirement age.
Health chiefs have warned that rural and coastal communities in Yorkshire face a particular struggle to recruit new GPs.
Mrs Irwin said it took about a year to recruit the new GP at their practice.
“It was a long process and it never used to be like that in the past,” she said.
“We put quite a few job adverts out but there was a very small amount of interest.
“Dr Scott trained in North Yorkshire and has been working up in Edinburgh for five years.
“We’re really pleased because it has worked out really well. It’s very positive. Our new nurse practitioner is also starting in October and that will really help us keep our services sustainable.”
Mrs Irwin said many young doctors were attracted to work in big cities where they could pursue specialist medical careers.
High housing costs and a lack of childcare facilities also meant young doctors with families struggle to move out to work in the Dales.
Mrs Irwin said: “It’s because of where we are.
“A lot of doctors want to work in the big cities and specialise in things. There is not a lot of childcare here and people want to have part-time jobs that fit around school.
“Every other practice I speak to is also struggling to recruit.”
Mrs Irwin said patients rely heavily on the services of the practice because of long distances to hospitals in Darlington, Northallerton and Middlesbrough.
She added: “We are a good hour from the nearest hospital and the bigger hospital in Middlesbrough is a good hour and 40 minutes away.”
News of recruitment at the Central Dales Practice was welcomed by John Blackie, an independent county councillor for the Upper Dales.
Coun Blackie said Hawes was 60 miles from James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough and 37 miles from The Friarage Hospital in Northallerton and the Darlington Memorial Hospital.
He said: “It is great news that at least here in the Upper Dales we have been able to recruit GPs and other professional medical staff so our surgeries can remain open. Our communities rely very heavily on the wonderful care these surgeries offer.
“It is so important when NHS services are in retreat to the far distant towns and cities, and for example the nearest hospital for complex healthcare provision is 60 miles away from Hawes.”
The Central Dales practice is part of the Heartbeat Alliance, a group of 21 practices in the Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) area.