A GP practice run by Virgin Care in Essex has been placed in special measures by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which said a lack of leadership was undermining the delivery of safe care at the surgery.

Church Lane Surgery in Braintree, which is part of Mid Essex CCG, received a rating of ‘Inadequate’ across the inspection board following an unannounced CQC inspection in August.

The watchdog’s report said governance processes were not always followed by staff, some of whom reported leadership problems to the regulator, and did not support safe patient care.

Virgin had plans in place for the ‘future leadership of the practice’, but this was disrupted by high turnovers of clinical and non-clinical staff, according to the CQC.

‘Frequent’ staff shortages meant workloads were not managed well at the surgery and increased the risk to patients’ welfare, the report said.

Further, it said the practice did not always manage the storage of its medicines effectively, and its systems for dealing with correspondence, referrals, pathology results and patient notes were deemed ‘ineffective’.

Virgin was told that it must improve its patient safeguarding, with little evidence picked up by the report that the practice regularly met with external agencies to share patient concerns.

Virgin won the contract to provide NHS primary care services at the Essex practice in July 2016, managing 18 services, including GP practices, walk-in centres and urgent care services.

Due to the ‘level of risk’ to patients identified by the report, the regulator has agreed an immediate action plan for short-term improvements with the provider.

The practice has six months to improve services before the CQC moves to try and close it down.

In a statement, Virgin said it was ‘determined’ to turn services around at the surgery.

The practice manager Christian Ellwood said the report was disappointing, but that the action plan being implemented was ‘comprehensive’.

He said: ‘We will work with the CQC as we strive towards a ‘Good’, or in time, ‘Outstanding’ rating for Church Lane Surgery.’