THREE Hartlepool GP surgeries that were facing the axe have been granted a reprieve.
NHS England had proposed closing Hartfields Medical Practice with over 2,000 patients having to find a new practice.
It was also planned to merge the Fens and Wynyard Road practices with one closing.
The moves sparked huge opposition from patients, councillors and Hartlepool MP Iain Wright.
But following a public consultation by NHS England, it is now proposed to extend the current contracts of the surgeries until March 31, 2016.
A decision on the future of the three practices was not due to be made by NHS England until after a meeting of Hartlepool Borough Council’s Audit and Governance Committee, which scrutinises health issues, on November 20.
Chairman of the committee, Coun Ray Martin-Wells, said: “Councillors shared the strength of public feeling caused by the proposals to close Hartfields surgery and merge the Fens and Wynyard Road Practices and I am absolutely delighted the current contracts have now been extended.”
He commend NHS England for working closely with the audit and governance committee in reaching the outcome.
Coun Martin-Wells added: “The Fens, Hartfields and Wynyard Road practices serve populations with a high degree of health need and I look forward to discussing with NHS England the future primary care needs of the patients registered at these surgeries.
“The Audit and Governance Committee will be keeping a watching brief on the development of any new plans.”
The NHS said the type of contract provided by the three practices had not attracted the expected level of patients in their first five years and would be too costly to run. They were due to expire next year.
But patients and local councillors said they were highly rated, many had joined after leaving other surgeries and stressed the closure plans did not take into account large new housing developments in the pipeline.
NHS England now plans to try and secure a new, long term, contract for the Hartfields practice, which is attached to Hartfields Retirement Village.
And the contract extensions will allow health chiefs to undertake more extensive engagement work before making any long-term decisions on the future of Fens and Wynyard Road surgeries.
Robert Smith, chairman of the Fens Residents’ Association, which spearheaded a campaign in the area, said: “Although we haven’t got the result we really wanted it is beneficial to have this extra time granted.
“It shows consultation is worth engaging in and that people power works.”
Councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher, vice chairman of the Audit and Governance Committee, added: “We worked with the NHS England area team to achieve this exceptionally positive outcome.
“Extending the contracts of these three surgeries is excellent news for the people of Hartlepool and shows that NHS England took into account all views that were raised.
“I’m sure all councillors on the Audit and Governance Committee welcome the news that NHS England now plans to conduct more extensive engagement activities with patients and relevant organisations, including Hartlepool Borough Council.”
Hart councillor Paul Beck, said: “As ward councillor I will not stand by and accept the loss of key services in our community.
“My campaign will now take a new course of action to ensure the correct resources are put in place to make the GP Practice sustainable for the future. This will include regular newsletters to encourage our young families to register with an award winning surgery which serves the wider community.
“The NHS staff at Hartfields are extremely hard working and myself and Councillor Robinson are delighted with this outcome.”