Shropshire Star

Doctors in war of words about plans for new Shrewsbury health hub

A ferocious war of words has broken out over proposals for a new health hub in Shropshire.

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Bernie Bentick at a protest against the health hub plans earlier this month

The GP leading the proposals has sent a hard hitting letter in response to one signed by five GPs who all vehemently oppose the plans to merge six of Shrewsbury's medical practices into one 'super hub' at Meole Brace.

Dr Charlotte Hart, the clinical lead for the Shrewsbury Health and Wellbeing Hub, opened a new front in the battle by asking the GPs to declare their own financial interests.

"All of you left clinical practice some time ago and all of you found it challenging to find partners to replace you who were happy to take on the burden of property ownership.

"As you will be aware, two of you have been and still are the landlords for the practice that you retired from, and you continue to receive annual rent from this building accordingly.

"In the spirit of openness and transparency, have you shared this conflict of interest when protesting against the hub?"

Dr Charlotte Hart

Dr Peter Bottomley and his colleague Dr Maher Moselhi ran the Marden Medical Practice in Shrewsbury from 1992 to 2016 when they both retired. They remain the landlords and rent the practice to GPs there to this day.

Dr Bottomley said: "It makes me cross that this should be brought in. We brought and developed the practice and we ended up with the premises. We had the options to evict the GPs and redevelop it but we are keen to continue. The rent we charge is no more than any other GP has to pay and not above what they can claim back and is not a burden on the tax payer.

"It is also hardly a secret that we both own the premises and we have done all we can to support the practice and we have said a long time ago that we would not pull the rug from under them. This is just a smokescreen."

Dr Bottomley said other GPs are on the brink of making their opposition known to the health hub plans which he sees as breaking the link between doctors and their patients.

"Some wonderful practices are at risk. It won't be long before we have a single monolithic practice at the health hub."

He added that "it is beyond belief that they can do this without public backing. People will no longer be able to walk to their surgery - nobody is going to walk to the health hub at the football ground. I will be losing my surgery at Claremont Bank, so I am in the same position as other patients in Shrewsbury."

He added that the same questions of conflict of interest should be made to everyone involved in the process, to see what their interests are.

Leading campaigner Councillor Bernie Bentick welcomed the challenge and responded by sending a similar request to everyone to declare their financial and other interests. Councillor Bentick is a retired surgeon who still does some bank work for Shropshire hospitals.

"All financial interests need to be in the open," he said. "All parties should declare their interests, including those members of the Integrated Care System. There is a complex web of financial interests, all of which need to be declared."

He added that whatever solution health bosses come up with it must be with the "full collaboration of Shropshire Council.

"It needs a comprehensive public transport and parking solution that fully meets the requirements for Shrewsbury and Shropshire patients."

Dr Hart's letter directs campaigners to the Shropshire and Telford Integrated Care System website.

"I can assure you there is no intention to cloak this project in secrecy," she said.

The letter adds that "you will all remember the wonderful days when we had District Nursing teams working from our practices. The aim is to have services like this within the building, these discussions and considerations will continue to form part of the ongoing engagement and involvement activity planned with the population.

"The formal, public consultation is planned to find out what would be helpful to have in the building alongside the usual services that people expect from their GP."

She adds: "People will be able to continue to see clinicians from their practice even if it is in the proposed hub. The proposal does not mean that healthcare staff will be lost, in fact it will enable practices to recruit more staff members because there will be more space.

"We will also be able to work collaboratively with other partners (e.g., the community trust and the mental health trust) to provide more timely care and support for our population."

And in relation to conficts of interest around the Darwin Health Ltd, a company set up to lead the plans, she said it is a small company that is independent of any of the plans for the hub and has no role in its development.

"There is no conflict of interest or financial gain for the directors," she said.

"The project team welcome ongoing dialogue and comments about the proposed hub. We would like to highlight again that the hub is a proposal. It is not a done deal. The outline business case hasn’t been submitted.

"There is no secret committee that is plotting and planning to do things in secret. The public consultation will be starting later in the year and will be asking people who are registered with the relevant practices and the wider community for their opinions."