Seven medical practices in Wrexham are at “high risk” of being taken over by a health board.
Concerns were raised about the struggles to recruit GPs to work in Wrexham with Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board officials.
Wrexham Council scrutiny committee members were told in addition to documented issues with Pen-Y-Maes Health Centre in Summerhill, Forge Road Surgery in Southsea and Borras Park Surgery, there is a very real risk of the health board having to step in and manage seven more surgeries in the county.
But bosses denied there was a plan to have one ‘super surgery’ covering the whole of Wrexham.
Protestors had gathered outside the Guildhall prior to the meeting to voice concerns over lack of GP coverage at surgeries already affected.
Due to difficulties in recruiting GPs, the health board is presently directly managing four General Practice surgeries in the county, these being Hillcrest, Beechley Road and Borras Park Surgeries in Wrexham and Pen-y-Maes Health Centre in Summerhill.
Forge Road is due to transfer to health board control when the current GPs retire at
the end of the year.
Dr Gareth Bowdler, East area medical director for BCUHB and a GP at Overton Medical Practice, said seven surgeries in Wrexham, including Strathmore Medical Practice and Gardden Road Surgery in Rhos, were deemed at a high risk of being unsustainable in the near future.
If that happened, the health board would put the service out to tender in the hopes of attracting GPs to run the surgery.
But failing that, the service would likely be taken on as a managed practice by Betsi, as has been the case with other surgeries across the county.
Dr Bowdler said: “There has not been enough recruitment to meet increasing demand. Over the last 10 years, the funding levels for GPs have barely increased.
”Becoming a GP has become a less and less attractive option and we are up against it.
”If you are a GP living in this area, you have got very easy access to Liverpool or Manchester so it is very competitive.”
Dr Bowdler added pay for new GPs was at the highest level permitted and said the health board had to look at other ways of attracting more doctors.
Rob Smith, east area director for BCUHB, added: “This is not an exact science. It is important to get a balanced perspective.
“Yes, these surgeries are at risk but it is impossible to know whether that means the GPs are going to end their contract.”
Cllr Gwenfair Jones said: “There was a local GP who put in for the tender on Pen-Y-Maes and had a team ready to work with her. It seems to me that BCUHB is putting people off.”
She asked whether it was the health board’s plan to have one big surgery for the whole of Wrexham.
But Mr Smith denied that was the case. He said: “There is absolutely no plan to do that. Our position is to advertise through General Medical Services because it is a model that works well.
”We are facing a situation where it is increasingly difficult and we have got to make the best of where we are and provide the best services we can.”
Cllr Brian Cameron said the crux of the issue was that GPs are essentially self-employed and have to put funds into a service if they want to work in the area.
“It just seems like a vicious circle – unless GPs are only recruited by the health board we are never getting to the bottom of this,” he said.
“They are self-employed and if you are a GP who has to put an outlay out to come into a practice in North Wales, it just does not make sense.
“I can understand why we are having problems recruiting GPs. Fifty years ago this system might have been useful but now it’s an Achilles’ heel and something needs to be done now, not in three years’ time.
“The people of Wrexham deserve a proper service.”
Dr Bowdler replied: “It is a double-edged sword.
“On one hand it provides autonomy because the practice is your baby and lots of us came to a practice and stayed there for their entire career.
“People don’t really want to work like that anymore. In financial terms, if you’re a businessman looking to take over a GP practice – you might think twice.”
It was said that a deal for the GP to take over the contract to run Pen-Y-Maes fell apart at the last minute and the health board was left with no option but to manage the service itself.