Backlash over plans to permanently close 'vital lifeline' GP practice in Hartlepool used by 2,200 patients
Councillors, patients and Hartlepool’s MP have voiced their opposition to proposals to permanently close a GP practice in the town.
Interested parties were called to Hartlepool Civic Centre to discuss the future of the Hartfields Medical Practice, based at Hartfields Extra Care Village at Bishop Cuthbert.
The practice has almost 2,200 registered patients and has been temporarily closed since mid-March last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, The McKenzie Group, which runs the practice, is looking to apply to NHS Tees Valley Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to close the practice for good – which includes a variation of an existing contract.
The McKenzie Group has been carrying out a six-week patient and stakeholder engagement to gather people’s views and experiences during the temporary closure and to ensure they understand what is planned.
It ends on Sunday, August 29.
At a special meeting of Hartlepool Borough Council’s Audit and Governance Committee on Friday, August 27, councillors, members of the public and the town’s MP shared their views to help form the council’s official response to the engagement.
Concerns raised by elected members ranged from the impact of a closure on vulnerable patients and associated travel and access issues, to increased demand on GP services from new housing developments.
Councillors heard that Healthwatch-organised feedback sessions with some practice patients living in the Hartfields complex had identified common concerns over the proposals, with people feeling “angry, neglected, upset, frightened, ignored and forgotten.”
One patient made a plea for the service to stay open at this week’s council meeting, describing it as a “vital lifeline.”
Meanwhile, newly elected MP for Hartlepool Jill Mortimer questioned McKenzie Group representatives on the reasons for the proposed permanent closure.
Referencing the feedback sessions from Healthwatch, the MP noted the “overwhelming feedback” against the potential loss of the practice.
“I get very worried when I hear these words, angry, neglected, upset, frightened, ignored, forgotten – I don’t want any of my constituents to feel like this,” she said.
“So I have to tell you that I will not be supporting in any way the closure of Hartfields and I’m going to do my absolute utmost to fight for it to stay open.”
Chair of the council’s Audit and Governance Committee, Councillor Rob Cook, also confirmed that two petitions opposing the proposed closure, totalling more than 550 signatures, had been passed on to the CCG.
The McKenzie Group intends to bring services together at its other sites at Wynyard Road Medical Centre, McKenzie House, Throston Medical Centre and Victoria Medical Centre.
The reason for the proposals, included in a council report, would be to “enhance clinical quality and practice resilience, to run more efficiently and to continue to deliver high quality of care to patients.”
The report adds that “the premises at the Hartfields site are limited comprising up to three clinical rooms, one without daylight, and there is no scope to further develop the Hartfields premises to facilitate the delivery of additional services.”
Practice bosses confirmed that around 1,000 responses had been submitted in its public engagement exercise so far.
They added that they had increased capacity and the number of appointments across the group, alongside progressing plans to update their telephone system to improve patient access.
After nearly three hours of debate, questions and presentations, members of the council’s Audit and Governance Committee agreed that they would not be supporting the proposed closure as outlined.
A further committee meeting will be arranged in September 2021, with a date to be confirmed, to allow The McKenzie Group to present its full findings from the public engagement and to “support the committee in the formulation of its final view/ consultation response.”
If following the engagement the group confirms its intention to stop providing GP services from the Hartfields building, a business case would be prepared for the consideration of NHS Tees Valley CCG/NHS England.