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Dr Freeman and Partners is no ordinary GP practice and Dr Howard Freeman, no ordinary GP. With nearly 20 partners and five surgeries, Dr Freeman oversees the largest GP practice in South West London making it one of the largest in the whole of London. “There are three main reasons for our growth and expansion,” explains Dr Freeman. “The first is because people like the services we offer. Secondly, general practice is no longer a front room activity and the future is increasingly about larger units offering more services from better premises. And third, we’ve had opportunities which the partners have had the foresight and wisdom to seize.”
“The reassuring thing about Lubbock Fine,” added Dr Freeman, “is that having been our accountants for around 20 years, they have a unique understanding of what is a very complex and unusual GP organisation and that’s very helpful indeed.”
Having studied at Cambridge and University College London Hospital (UCLH), Howard Freeman began his London career in the early 1980s. He joined his current practice which, at the time, ran from a small surgery in the back garden of the founding doctor’s house in Tooting as well as from another small premises.
A stroke of luck soon allowed Dr Freeman to apply for a general practice vacancy in Tooting, which came with premises. This was swiftly followed by taking on a second site in Tooting and, soon afterwards, an opportunity arose to
move into the current Durham Road premises. With that move came a recruitment drive and by 1984 the practice comprised four or five GPs (not all full time), including Dr Penny Smith. A decision to invest in nurses at that time was an innovative step for a London practice, and soon, Dr Freeman and Partners was able to run family planning services based entirely on nurses.
The practice went from strength to strength and in 1988 became the only practice to train GPs in Wandsworth. Experiencing steady growth, they bravely became a ‘first way fund holding’ practice in line with a scheme introduced by the then Conservative government and bitterly opposed by most of the medical profession. This allowed the introduction of many more services, further investment in nurses and the introduction of counselling services, still provided to this day. The funding also allowed the total redevelopment of their premises at a time when most GPs feared the risk and didn’t see the need.
“Through all of our growth and development we’ve increasingly needed excellent financial support and advice,” said Dr Freeman. “For the last 20 years, Lubbock Fine and particularly our relationship with Jeff Gitter, the partner responsible for us, have given us that. As we’ve grown, the need for expert accountancy advicehas, of course, increased.”
A series of interesting and high profile activities followed developments in Wandsworth, including the opening of a new surgery alongside a large, new private housing estate in Tooting, the absorption of another local practice, focusing on training young doctors and medical students, and then the development of another state of the art surgery, at a cost of £1.2 million, which opened in 2011.
The latest and most exciting project is the development of brand new, cutting edge premises at Raynes Park which is due to open towards the end of 2012. “This has been undertaken with the support of a specialist third party developer, MEDICX ,” said Dr Freeman “and lots of support from our accountants!”
The new premises will be the largest purpose built medical premises in South West London. Kingston Hospital will be providing a range of diagnostic hospital facilities on the ground floor with St Anthony’s hospital providing private outpatient and diagnostic services on an upper floor. There will also be a private physiotherapist on the premises.
Having achieved unprecedented growth of his practice together with stability and a great reputation, Dr Freeman is now at an age where he has an eye on retirement. In a bid to take a back seat and decrease the pressure he is increasingly handing responsibilities over to his partners. As an example, Dr Penny Smith has led the new Tooting development project. He is also busy with a number of high profile appointments, including sitting on Boris’s London Health Improvement Board and being the current chair of the London Clinical Commissioning Council which represents all GP commissioners in London.
Dr Freeman is confident about the future. “The practice needs a period to bed down in its new premises across all its sites and to consolidate. The most important aspect is a safe transition to a successor as I take more of a back seat. The new system of clinical commissioning will mean increased focus on how GPs use NHS resources but this practice has always done that and it shouldn’t therefore mean a huge cultural shift for us, as it will for some of our GP colleagues.”