IAIN WRIGHT: Take time to have your say on health

Fens Medical Centre
Fens Medical Centre

I mentioned in my column last month the ongoing NHS England consultation on whether to close Fens Medical Practice, Hartfields Medical Practice, or both.

With the consultation period now coming to an end (the last day for submission is tomorrow) and having made by own submission last week, I want to discuss it again.

Although the Government has talked about continuity of care and access to a named GP, people across the country are finding it harder to see their preferred GP.

There are fewer GPs now compared to 2009 and the Government’s own GP taskforce early last year concluded that “that there is a GP workforce crisis”. The same report showed that GP numbers aren’t keeping up with demand and that the GP workforce is shrinking, saying: “Disturbingly, evidence is also emerging from the NHS Information Centre that the GP workforce is now shrinking rather than growing.”

In Hartlepool we have suffered from having a low numbers of GPs for some time. Indeed, the latest data from 2015 shows that the Hartlepool and Stockton CCG area has 61.4 GPs per 100,000 population, the lowest in the North East and much lower than the English average. This is precisely the reason that we were given additional provision seven years ago under the previous Labour Government but this is now being taken away at a time when the problem evidently remains unsolved.

I think we also need to question whether the Government’s current model of short-term contracts for the provision of primary care services really provides value for money or effective patient care. Nobody wants to see contracts of indefinite length but in my view if a contract is providing a quality service it makes no sense to insist that it needs to be automatically re-tendered on such a regular basis. If General Practice is about anything it should be about building a long-term relationship for lifelong family care.

There are also a number of specific reasons why I don’t think the GP practices identified in the consultation should be closed and I have gone into detail about these in my submission. When I was growing up on the Fens Estate not having local doctors was always a big drawback for the area. That has now being changed and we shouldn’t go back. Also, with Hartlepool Borough Council approving major new housing developments in the southern part of the town it seems ridiculous to be closing GP services when there is so much potential additional demand in the pipeline.

Hartfields Practice, where I am also a patient, is a vital part of the Hartfields Retirement Village. Indeed, many of its residents might have moved there partly because of the close proximity to a doctors’ surgery, and it is also important to the growing estate of Bishop Cuthbert where much additional housing is planned over the coming years. The closing date for the consultation is tomorrow, September 23. I hope everyone affected by the proposals will take the time to contribute.