UNDER fire Modality GP practices in Skipton and South Craven are showing positive signs of improvement, agreed North Yorkshire councillors.

Representatives of the GP partnership spoke at a meeting of the council of the challenges it faced with a rising population, a growing ageing population and greater demands on primary care due to the withdrawal of public health services such as stopping smoking and health visitors, the impact of which fell on GP surgeries.

The three representatives were at the meeting of the Skipton and Ripon area committee of North Yorkshire Council  yesterday (Thursday) to respond to concerns raised with ward councillors by patients about the Modality practices, Fisher Medical in Skipton, and at Steeton, Cross Hills and Silsden.

Following the presentation, the committee decided against taking any further action, agreed that improvements had been made following the introduction of a new appointment system last year, but to ask for a progress report in six months time.

Brendan Kennedy, Lois Brown and Bill Graham from Modality, spoke at Thursday's meeting at the council offices in Skipton about coping with an 'Amazon culture' where people expected an immediate response and the national falling numbers of GPs with people choosing to emigrate or not to go into GP practice once they had completed their training.

On the positive side, Craven was an area where doctors and nurses wanted to live and work unlike other parts of the country where practices were in danger of closing.

Bendan Kennedy, a GP Partner at Modality explained how the new appointment system brought in last year had been introduced in response to the level of calls the practices were getting and in an attempt to make it fairer for all, and how it had been one of the first in the country.

He stressed there had been a misconception that it had gone completely online, but that patients were still able to telephone or go into surgeries in person as well to book appointments, but accepted perhaps it could have been handled better.

"We are trying our best as we face the challenges facing primary care at the moment," he said.

Asked what the council could do to help the GP partnership, Lois Brown said it would be useful if a council representative sat on its patient participation group so they could feed back to the council what was going on, and agreed they could do better with how it communicated, suggesting it distribute information in libraries and taxis. Bill Graham added: "I agree we need to do a better job in the way that we communicate, we don't always get things right."

Skipton councillor Robert Heseltine, who had previously criticised Modality, said he had recently received excellent service from Fisher Medical and believed it was improving.

"Obviously, you (Modality) are improving, but you must keep it up, your patients have nowhere else to turn," he said.

Committee chair, Councillor Richard Foster, said times had changed and the rural family doctor of his youth no longer existed. 

He added:  "Clearly, they (Modality)  have established a direction of travel, but I think it would be useful to keep an eye on them. I think we need to get a progress report in six months time."