A LONG-established Thurso medical partnership is about to come to an end following what was described as "an exceptionally difficult period".
The decision was made mainly due to problems recruiting doctors, according to Dr Gordon Morris, one of three partners in the Riverbank Medical Practice in Janet Street – the other two are Dr Stuart Findlay and Dr Craig Loughhead.
However, Dr Morris and NHS Highland stressed the practice will continue to operate with locums until a long-term strategy can be worked out.
"The main reason for the decision is the inability to recruit professionals to the practice.
"We used to have five partners here but two have retired and we have had a sickness absence as well.
"We have been advertising for replacements but have been unable to recruit any," Dr Morris told the Caithness Courier.
He pointed out the practice has been making use of locums for "the past few months".
"They are very satisfactory locums but you cannot continue like that so it was decided to end the partnership," said the GP, who, like his two colleagues, is an independent contractor and is not employed by NHS Highland.
Dr Morris said discussions have been ongoing with health bosses and emphasised arrangements have been put in place to ensure the medical service continues.
"Patients should not notice any change," he stated.
Dr Morris, who has been involved in the partnership for 13 years, also pointed out the 12 full and part-time staff at the practice will not be affected by the decision.
"It is very disappointing the partnership – formed by the amalgamation of two previous local practices about 20 years ago – cannot continue in its present form due to external circumstances.
"But the service will be retained and patients should not notice any difference," he said.
No timescale has been established for the ending of the partnership although it is understood to be imminent.
An Inverness-based spokeswoman for NHS Highland said the Riverbank Medical Practice "is going through a period of transition".
But she assured patients there will be no change to general medical services being provided.
"Following an exceptionally difficult period, the partners of Riverbank Medical Practice have taken the very difficult decision to end their partnership.
"Despite their best efforts, the continuation of the partnership is no longer viable," said the spokeswoman.
She explained NHS Highland will assume responsibility for the practice on a temporary basis.
"The partners continue to work very closely with NHS Highland to ensure a smooth transition until we take over.
"The practice already uses a number of experienced, regular locum doctors. These arrangements will be extended until a longer-term solution is put in place. A meeting has taken place with the staff to keep them informed of the temporary arrangement," continued the spokeswoman.
"Contingency plans are in place and there will be no disruption to service during this transition. Going into the future, patients will be kept fully informed around any proposed changes."
Molly Baikie, of Caithness Patients’ Council, yesterday said it is "very sad" GPs cannot be recruited to the Thurso practice.
The Riverview practice in Wick is also having difficulties getting a replacement GP, she said.
"They don’t seem to be prepared to come so far north," added Mrs Baikie.