Shropshire Star

Shrewsbury's 'super GP hub' explained: The story so far and why it's proved so controversial

Plans for a 'super GP hub' in Shrewsbury have sparked huge debate across the town, but just what is being planned, and why has it proved so controversial?

A protest against the plan took place at Shirehall

Last summer NHS Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin announced its plans for a 'health and wellbeing hub', also known as a 'Cavell Centre' in the town.

The scheme is a pilot – one of six being looked at across the country.

At the time it was not entirely clear what shape the plan would take, with the project described as "a fantastic resource with a range of health and wellbeing services provided by the NHS, local council, and voluntary sector organisations under one roof, in a new state-of-the-art building".

Since that announcement it has emerged that the hub would become the base for six of Shrewsbury's GP practices – and would also host additional services.

Those involved are The Beeches Medical Practice, Belvidere Medical Practice, Claremont Bank Surgery, Marden Medical Practice, Marysville Medical Practice and South Hermitage Surgery.

Under the plan all of the surgeries would leave their current premises, and relocate to the same building – taking more than 40,000 patients with them.

Health bosses behind the project have been at pains to point out that the plan does not mean a merger of the practices into one 'super practice', and have stressed they will remain unique and with their own identity within the new building.

Details of how it would work on a practical level, such as waiting rooms, receptionists, and other separate features of individual practices are yet to be confirmed.

Two practices, Mytton Oak Surgery and Radbrook Green Surgery, will also remain at their current sites but some of their services could be provided by the new hub.

One major development, which came last month, has been the location of the hub building.

Health bosses have confirmed that Meole Brace would be the site for the hub – near to Shrewsbury Town Football Club, off Oteley Road.

The plan has led to a significant debate, and criticism from local politicians and residents – and even a public row between Dr Charlotte Hart, the GP leading the proposal, and five retired Shrewsbury GPs after they penned a critical open letter.

The arguments for the hub from health bosses have focussed on a number of factors – particularly condition of the existing premises and ability to expand.

A summary document from Shropshire Telford & Wrekin Integrated Care System set out the 'case for change', stating: "The practices’ premises are in varying conditions, but in the main they are either no longer fit to deliver modern healthcare services and/or there is insufficient space to meet future demand, with no option to extend outwards or upwards."

Councillors opposed to the plan have suggested using money for the hub project to instead improve the existing practices – however, health chiefs have rejected this idea, revealing that the money set aside for the hub can only be used for that project.

The 'case for change' also argued that new, 'state of the art' premises, would help retain and attract GPs.

It states: "The proposal for a health and wellbeing hub in Shrewsbury is primarily aimed to alleviate the pressures we are currently facing in general practice but also in secondary care, as well as to place the onus on the needs of services being available within a local community that would benefit from national investment.

"Modern, high-quality GP services in Shrewsbury would provide a more holistic approach to health and wellbeing in a state-of-the-art building. It would also help to support retention and recruitment of our skilled health professionals who would be working in an active and dynamic environment."

In a meeting earlier this year to discuss the proposals Claire Parker, director of partnerships at Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin Clinical Commissioning Group, told councillors about the difficulties in retaining GPs.

Speaking at Shropshire Council's health and social care overview scrutiny committee in May, she said: "It is really challenging to retain GPs, so for example, one of our practices cannot get partners because the lease is about to run out and that is one of the surgeries involved in the pilot."

She added: "If we cannot renew the lease then the practice would go, so by having a system-owned building they will be able to retain staff and expand their workforce.

"This is about an expansion and investment in primary care, not a reduction, it is not about cost cutting at all."

It also argues that 'refurbishments' will not be enough to address problems with existing practices, saying: "As we know, the NHS’s financial performance is significantly challenged. If action is not taken now the NHS will face greater difficulties in the future. Doing nothing is not an option and short-term solutions (e.g. refurbishments) are not enough to provide the quality care needed for patients."

Despite the arguments the proposals have met with strong reactions, sparking two protests so far, while both Liberal Democrat and Labour Councillors have been vocal in their concerns about the plan.

There have been numerous criticism of the scheme but the highest on the list of concerns is the issue of travel, with patients concerned about how they get too and from the new practice.

Dr Hart has however said that the issue of transport is at the forefront of their minds, and is being worked on as part of the proposal.

Speaking last month she said: "We are exploring transport solutions which will ensure the hub would be linked into the transport system and easily accessible to patients."

While transport is an issue, people who took part in a protest outside Shirehall earlier this month were also just concerned about losing what they consider a 'local' GP practice, while Meole councillor Bernie Bentick, a retired NHS consultant, described the plan as "pilot scheme", adding: "we are the guinea pigs, we haven't been consulted."

Whatever happens officials will have a chance to try and win round their critics when a full consultation takes place later this year.