CONTROVERSIAL changes to GP provision in Herefordshire have saved vital practices from closure, a county medical group says.

Formed in July 2018 by the merging of Hereford's Greyfriars, King Street, Bobblestock, Moorfield House, Sarum House and Quay House surgeries, Hereford Medical Group has received heavy criticism after patients found booking appointments difficult.

But despite teething difficulties, the group is confident that the merger was an essential move to continue the provision of vital services in the county in the face of increasing demand.

Bethany Wright, Hereford Medical Group Patient Experience and Communications Manager said: "One of the main reasons for the merger was to provide a resilient service to the patients registered at each practice in the face of a national shortage of GPs.

"It would be fair to say that had the merger not taken place, then by now, at least two of the practices may have been forced to close due to the inability to recruit GPs to replace those that were retiring.

"This would have meant that patients at those practices would not have had any registered GP."

GPs, nurse practitioners, practice nurses, healthcare assistants and other clinical staff at the group's busy surgeries currently see a combined total of around 3,500 patients per week in pre-booked, routine appointments alone.

And an urgent care centre has also been opened to deal with an ever growing demand for urgent, on-the-day appointments at Edgar Street's Moorfield House.

Miss Wright said the group is also working hard to improve waiting times for telephone callers.

A centralised team of up to 12 receptionists is currently employed to deal with the 11,000 calls the group receives in an average week.

An upgraded telephone system has been installed and a new staff rota will increase the number of people answering calls during busy periods at the group.

Patients can also register for patient access to book appointments and order repeat prescriptions online.

"We are aware of how frustrating it has been for patients who have found it difficult to get through or to get appointments," Ms Wright said.

"If patients want to feedback to us, the best way to do this is via our website, by emailing or by writing to us.

"We are always interested in receiving both good and not so good feedback."