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Fresh fears over future of Shropshire's rural GP clinics

By Lisa O'Brien | Shrewsbury | Health | Published:

Fresh concerns have been raised about access to GP surgeries in Shropshire, with fears it could lead to more pressure being put on already hard-pressed hospitals.

It comes in the wake of news that a medical practice in Shrewsbury will close in September after a new provider could not be found.

Meanwhile, an opportunity to build a new medical practice in Whitchurch was rejected by a planning committee on Tuesday amid warnings from a councillor that the town faces a crisis in GP care.

An analysis of NHS data has revealed that hundreds of villages across the country have lost their GP surgery, with experts saying rural and coastal areas are being hit particularly hard by a national shortage of family doctors.

Doctors in Shropshire say GPs are leaving the profession, retiring early, going part-time or emigrating to work in other countries, resulting in increased pressure on those who remain. And local health campaigners fear losing GP practices may heap extra pressure on hospitals.

It emerged yesterday that Whitehall Medical Practice, in Monkmoor, Shrewsbury – which serves more than 3,700 patients – will close in September after a new provider could not be found.

The practice is currently run by Malling Health and Shropshire Clinical Commissioning Group which said it has written to patients to inform them of the decision.

Now, Teri Owens, who has been a patient there for the past decade, has launched an online petition calling for the practice to remain open. It has already been signed by more than 150 people.

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Teri says she and her family have built up a strong bond with the GPs, adding: “This is a huge disappointment not only for my family but many of other families in situations like myself.”

Shropshire CCG said the organisation is confident that patients will be able to find places at other local alternative practices and has been working with nearby practices in close vicinity to help with the transfer of patients.

Gill George, chairwoman of Shropshire Defend our NHS, said primary care services such as GP practices were the backbone of the NHS.

She added: “If we start to lose these then people’s health declines, people become sick, people are more likely to be admitted to hospital when they don’t need to be. There are some areas in Shropshire where GP provision is excellent, other areas are more threadbare.”

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“We have to make sure GPs are getting support from decision-makers at the CCGs.”

Scale

Councillor Thomas Biggins, who represents Whitchurch North, said the town was facing a crisis in GP care, with the closure of one practice and the planned retirement of two partner GPs.

It comes as the Wrekin Housing Trust’s application for 74 supported residential units, a health centre, a pharmacy, cafe, and community rooms at Pauls Moss in Whitchurch was rejected by Shropshire Council’s North Planning Committee on Tuesday.

Council officers had recommended refusal because of the scale of the development proposed, but a number of local councillors spoke in support of the application.

Dr Mary McCarthy

Dr Mary McCarthy, who works at Belvidere Medical Practice in Shrewsbury, says the NHS cannot afford to lose GPs and the government must make the funding of health and social care its first priority.

She said existing GPs are facing increased stress and pressure as others are leaving the profession, retiring early, going part-time or emigrating to work as a GP in other countries.

“General practice is the robust base of any cost-effective health care system and if the UK does not want secondary care and accident and emergency departments overwhelmed by patients who can’t get in to see a GP, then they will have to make a conscious decision to fund, support and value general practice," she said.

"The recent Long Term Plan has looked at putting more money into general practice but health economists feel that though this is enough to stop things deteriorating still further it is not enough to make things better."

“There are plans to fund more nurses, physiotherapists and paramedics to work in GP surgeries but again, this is planned to be phased in over the next five years and the crisis in general practice is on us now. If the NHS is to survive, the government must make the funding of health and social care its first priority.”

National shortage of GPs causes concern

New medical practices are desperately needed in some towns and villages that may have lost their GP surgeries over the years.

Experts say a national shortage of family doctors is forcing patients to travel further for care.

Patients of Whitehall Medical Practice in Monkmoor, Shrewsbury, now face having to find another GP surgery before it closes in September.

Whitehall Medical Practice, Monkmoor, Shrewsbury

And it has been claimed that the refusal of plans that would have provided Whitchurch with a new medical centre has come as a ‘devastating shock’ to the community.

The Wrekin Housing Trust application for 74 supported residential units, a health centre, pharmacy, cafe and community rooms at Pauls Moss in Whitchurch was rejected by Shropshire Council’s North Planning Committee on Tuesday – with the chairman’s casting vote backing planning officers in their recommendation for refusal after the committee was deadlocked a 4-4.

The committee had been asked to balance the potential benefits of a new medical centre against the potential harm to the conservation area surrounding the Pauls Moss mansion by demolishing the building.

The council officers also recommended refusal because of the scale of the development proposed.

Councillor Gerald Dakin, who represents Whitchurch South, said he was very disappointed. He said: “It was a devastating shock. Whitchurch is in need of a new doctor’s surgery. The doctors we have now are coming up to retirement.

“We need a new surgery to encourage new doctors into the town.

“They have also turned down 74 supported residential units, which could have kept people out of care homes and hospitals.

“The opportunity has been lost. I’m sorely disappointed. We have about four doctors now, what we need are 10. We will be seeing more houses built in Whitchurch. It will be in desperate need then.”

Councillor Peggy Mullock, who represents Whitchurch North, spoke in support of the application at the meeting saying the health of residents in Whitchurch was the most important priority.

Not adequate

Councillor Mullock, who is also chairwoman of the Whitchurch Patients’ Group, said: “I was devastated it didn’t get planning permission. We’ve been working with the patients’ group for four years to find a medical centre for the town.

“At the moment services operate from two private homes and half a hospital ward.

“That’s not adequate for more than 13,000 registered patients. Everyone is struggling to get GPs. It’s turning into a crisis. Someone somewhere has to address this.”

Nicky Wilde, director of primary care at Shropshire Clinical Commissioning Group, said the organisation was a key partner in the proposed Pauls Moss development which would have provided a new, modern health centre for the people of Whitchurch.

She said: “We will now be arranging a meeting with Wrekin Housing Trust, the practices and the local authority to decide what the options are and how we move forward.”

Planning committee member, councillor Vince Hunt, who represents Oswestry West, said the new development would not sit comfortably within the conservation area. He said that the problem of a GP practice for the town should already have been tackled by Shropshire CCG.

Elsewhere in Shropshire, Shropshire CCG announced earlier this month that Shifnal, which is the focus of considerable development plans, is to have a new medical centre.

Lisa O'Brien

By Lisa O'Brien
Senior Reporter - @lisaobrien_Star

Senior reporter based at Shropshire Star's head office in Ketley. Covering the Telford area.

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