PRIORY Surgery is in new hands, six months after it was taken over by the local health trust.

The practice, which provides GP services for more than 14,000 people across Bangor and Holywood, will now be run by a federation of doctors.

Starting next Tuesday, Federation Support Unit GP Management CIC will be in charge of its surgeries in Holywood and the Springhill area of Bangor.

In a letter sent to patients this week, doctors from the body state that they want to prioritise providing essential services while they’re getting set up, and will later ‘expand and implement the full range of services available in most practices’.

They also ask for ‘patience in the first few weeks and months’ while they get to grips with Priory and Springhill.

They add, however, that anyone contacting the surgery shouldn’t notice any changes to its current set-up, while medical records and prescription information will automatically be transferred over to their new system.

The South Eastern Health Trust has asked patients to stick with the practice, specifically asking people not to try to move somewhere else until after Halloween.

The Federation has been set up as a Community Interest Company, or CIC. In their letter to patients, the doctors state that it’s ‘a special type of limited company which exists to benefit the community, rather than private shareholders’.

But it does mark a shift from the old way of running Priory and Springhill, as it will be a company structure rather than the partnership model employed by the GPs who used to be in charge of the practice.

States the Federation: “This model will allow us to manage and enhance the practice by recruiting new doctors and other staff as required, whilst ensuring the best care for patients.

“This will take time, but we envisage this practice will be able to return to the traditional partnership GP practice in the medium term.

“The alternative to our model was for the practice to be closed and patients to be dispersed to neighbouring practices.

“We do not believe this is a viable option for neighbouring practices, nor is it favourable for patients in terms of safety and continuity of care.”

FSU GP Management CIC already control of a number of surgeries elsewhere in Northern Ireland; for example, it took over a Ballymena practice in February of this year after the people previously in charge ended their contract.

That’s broadly what happened with Priory and Springhill, as last year the GPs in charge announced they were going to hand their contracts back.

Despite months of negotiations, NHS bosses failed to get anyone to take over the practice, with other doctors baulking at the size of its patient list.

Over 14,000 patients across two sites make it the second largest GP practice in Northern Ireland, and it proved difficult for the NHS to find a new group of partners willing to tackle such a hefty undertaking.

That left both surgeries facing the threat of closure.

At the end of January, the South Eastern Health Trust stepped in to run Priory and Springhill, arranging to have locum doctors in place to keep it going.

The Trust also maintained a ban on patients moving to other practices in Bangor and Holywood that was brought in shortly after the old GPs announced they were going to end their contracts.