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Supporting fair and ethical business in partnership with The Co-operative Bank

Co-operation going hand in hand with healthcare innovation

Case study

28th June 2022
Co-op development
The Whitfield GP surgery exterior

Discover how a GP surgery in Scotland is breaking new ground with pioneering initiatives and a co-operative ethos. And how it became a co-op with support from The Hive…  

When the lead GP retired at the Whitfield Surgery in Dundee, the local health board took over and kept it going using locum and salaried doctors. It wasn’t the ideal way to run a healthcare service.

“There was no stability. This practice needed help.” says GP Rebecca Forrester. “I’d been a partner in a different practice for 11 years and I fancied a challenge. So, in 2018, I came in, started to recruit doctors and began stabilising it.

The team soon reached the stage where they wanted to break away from the health board, be autonomous and make their own decisions. To do that, they had to bid in a tender for the practice.

“This made us think about the business model we wanted to take on,” Rebecca says. “We wanted to make the practice sustainable and more attractive for future GPs.”

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We shared the same ethos – we wanted to distribute profits back into the business or community or other projects, not just to the GP partners as in the traditional model.
– Rebecca Forrester, GP, Whitfield Surgery

So, the team decided to form a co-operative – and the Newfield Medical Group was created. Registered as a co-op in January 2022, it was awarded the contract to run the surgery in May 2022.

With plans to develop and increase membership, it currently comprises five member directors: four GPs and the practice manager. “Not many surgeries have a practice manager as a director. And what we liked about the co-op model is that anyone can be a director,” says Rebecca.

“You need to have a voice from all the different elements of the business. This shows they are just as important as the GPs.” 

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It’s about valuing every single member of your team. If one of our receptionists ended up being a director, I’d be happy with that.
– Rebecca Forrester

To set up as a co-op Rebecca and her team successfully applied for help from The Hive – the co-op business support programme delivered by Co-operatives UK in partnership with The Co-operative Bank.

They received expert guidance from Co-operative Governance Advisor Linda Barlow. “Doctors aren’t business people. So having someone who says, ‘You need to know this or do that,’ was really useful. Linda helped us navigate the legal forms.

“She guided us through the process of becoming a co-op – and lead us through every stage. At each point, she’d say ‘You need to make a decision – is it this, this or this?’ It enabled us to define ourself as an organisation.

“She also provided draft governing documents, which we adapted to suit our aims. Thanks to the help and guidance we received through The Hive, Co-operatives UK even submitted to Companies House on our behalf.”

For Rebecca and her team, the co-operative ethos underpins everything they do. And this ambitious, innovative new practice roots its decisions in co-op principles, which makes a big difference to the way they deliver care – and the services they offer.

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We make everyone individually responsible for patients’ care, not just the clinicians. And we have a caring community ethos.
– Rebecca Forrester

“Because our surgery is in a deprived area, we probably see more patients coming out of prison than hospital. At the same time, the prison service had been wanting to recruit health workers, so we decided to help them.

“We now have a contract with the prison. We go in once a week and do a session, as well as provide remote cover for the rest of the week. That’s the first time it’s been done in Scotland.”

The team has also secured a contract with the Scottish government to run a primary care training centre. “We were thinking about a way to attract students to general practice and make it more enjoyable,” Rebecca recalls.

“We decided to create a special unit – a student led mini surgery with consultation rooms. It’s a great way to install a different type of ethos into general practice and to introduce the co-op model. It’s the first of its kind in the UK.

“The co-op model has also helped us change the way we manage the practice. We’ve flipped it on its head – we have our GPs answering the phone, not the receptionist. So the first point of contact is the doctor who decides what to do next.  

“We’ve found we deal with things much quicker. GPs are in the best place to signpost patients because of their clinical knowledge. We deal with everything from the front. It’s typical of how we do things here – we work together and are all on the same level. We develop people, so they all become leaders.”

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