A Somerset doctors’ surgery will be taking a leaf out of a major British retailer in a bid to retain and recruit GPs.

The Minehead Medical Centre on Irnham Road has struggled to recruit doctors due to the town’s isolated location on the edge of the Exmoor National Park.

To solve the problem, the centre’s existing staff have applied to the Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to form their own limited company and run the surgery as an employee-owned trust – known within the NHS as “the John Lewis model”.

The Minehead proposals were debated at a virtual meeting of the CCG’s primary care commissioning committee on Wednesday morning (June 8).

Christine Young, the CCG’s primary care contracts officer, said the decision was “the first of its kind in Somerset”

She said: “The key driver in the decision by the practice to incorporate is to protect the ongoing stability and sustainability of the practice.

“Despite ongoing efforts to recruit staff, GP recruitment is particularly challenging in this geographic location.

“The change in model of ownership transfers risk from the GPs to the incorporated company. The medical centre believes this business model will help attract and retain GPs at the practice.”

As things stand, Dr Ed Ford will become the surgery’s sole GPs by September as a result of other staff retirements.

The surgery has stressed the change will lead to no change in the quality or standard of care being provided to its patients.

Tanya Whittle, the CCG’s deputy director of contracting, said the decision had been subject to a “robust and thorough” evaluation and was “in line with national guidance”.

She added: “It’s been a learning experience for us all, because it is the first one of its type within Somerset, and we’re very keen to get it right first time because there may be others coming through.”

Committee chairman David Heath, who serves as a non-executive director on the CCG,  also welcomed the change – and took the opportunity to taunt residents of Shepton Mallet, where John Lewis was born in 1836.

“I don’t think this will be the last time within Somerset there will be a need to consider novel forms of practice structure.

“My strong belief – and I’ve seen this in the legal profession as well – is that there is a gradual drift away from partnership as the preferred and almost universal method of constructing a business in the profession."