A west Cumbrian GP surgery that serves more than 4,000 patients is closing suddenly.

Whitehaven Medical Practice has announced it will terminate its NHS contract at the end of the month.

Urgent efforts are now underway to find new practices for the 4,200 affected patients.

It will mean other surgeries have to take hundreds of additional patients onto their already busy workloads.

NHS chiefs have sought to reassure those affected that nobody will be left without a GP.

However individuals will not be able to choose their new practice.

Instead a place will be allocated by the NHS to each patient. They will then have to stay with that surgery for three months, after which they will be able to apply to move if preferred.

NHS England has sent out letters to all affected patients informing them of the closure. They will then receive another letter before July 31 confirming their new practice.

Whitehaven Medical Practice, in Catherine Street, has just one full time GP, Dr Thomas Ickes - who has previously spoken publicly about the problems facing general practice.

Back in 2015 he admitted he had turned to private tattoo removals to help boost his income.

Last year, he took on about 2,600 extra patients following the closure of nearby Catherine Street Surgery.

But now he has informed NHS England and NHS North Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) of his "reluctant" decision to terminate the practice's contract.

Dr Amanda Boardman, the CCG's lead GP, said she could not go into any details about why it had happened.

"We've been aware that the practice has been having problems for several months, and been working really hard with them to try and come up with solutions," she said.

"It's got to a point where it's unsustainable. There are various factors, but what I would say is it demonstrates the vulnerability of single-handed practices."

Dr Boardman said it was "very rare" for a GP practice to terminate its contract like this. However she said surgeries run by just one doctor, and even small practices, are most at risk due to rising demand and difficulties recruiting GPs.

In west Cumbria, GP shortages are a particular problem.

However she said that although plans are in place to help boost recruitment, the CCG's immediate focus is on the people affected by the closure of Whitehaven Medical Practice.

Special efforts are being made to identify vulnerable patients, such as those receiving palliative care or with complex needs, and ensure that their care is not disrupted.

The CCG is also supporting the practices taking on extra patients, to help offset the extra demand, and working with hospitals and other health services that may also see a spike.

Whitehaven Medical Practice patients should use the surgery as normal until July 31, though those requiring repeat prescriptions are advised to put requests in well ahead of the closure.

The CCG has stressed that patient records will be transferred to their new practice through secure means.