THOUSANDS of students could be left struggling to find a GP if a York healthcare provider is not taken out of special measures at a crucial review.

Paula Tunbridge, the University of York's director of campus life and well-being, voiced concerns about provision for new students during a City of York Council health scrutiny meeting on Tuesday.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is due to review standards at York’s Unity Health on September 18.

The health provider was rated ‘inadequate’ by the CQC and placed in special measures in July, which put a freeze on registering new patients. It currently predicts that these measures will be lifted, but hopes support from other surgeries will be made available it they aren’t.

Ms Tunbridge estimated that 4,000 new students will join the existing student base of around 16,000 in the next few weeks. She said: “Whilst we sincerely hope that it is not the case that Unity Health continues to be rated ‘inadequate’, there must be a serious response to what would happen if that were the case.”

Unity Health’s Kimberlow Hill and Wenlock Terrace surgeries were criticised by the CQC for their arrangements for monitoring and reviewing prescribing, weaknesses in managing potential risks to patient safety, complaints handling and monitoring of staff competency.

Both are close to the university campus and have traditionally provided “student-specific expertise”.

In May, The Press revealed how there were problems for patients phoning to make appointments, which left some having to get taxis to the surgery to make an appointment in person.

Unity Health clinical partner, Dr Richard Wilcox, said an action plan has been drawn up, which will be monitored by the CQC and NHS England, and a number of improvements have already been implemented.

These include overhauling the complaints system and carrying out a full health and safety audit across all of its sites.

Dr Wilcox told the council committee that Unity Health had also stopped using a problematic online triage system and had employed four further call handlers to staff a new, doctor-led telephone triage system.

When pushed for answers about its ‘Plan B’, to avoid a “scramble” when the new students arrive, Dr Kevin Smith, from Vale of York Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said the CQC had indicated that the outcome of the upcoming review would be positive and he was confident that the suspension on new registrations would be lifted.

He said: “We have put in place plans of what we would activate if there was a need for an alternative service.

“It’s very difficult to do that in advance, but we are making every preparation that we can.

“We think we’ll be able to get in support from other practices immediately.”