The proposed Shrewsbury Health and Wellbeing Hub was subject of a heated discussion at an extraordinary public meeting at St Chad’s Church in Shrewsbury.
The plans have sparked protests and criticism over a perceived lack of transport and concerns that patients will lose continuity over seeing their regular GPs, and there was another demonstration ahead of this event.
Campaigners held signs saying "Save our GP Practices!" and "No to the Health Hub". One had a picture of a guinea pig, saying "No Hub, we are no guinea pig!"
One protestor, Euryl Stevens - a patient of the South Hermitage surgery for 40 years - said she thought the hub idea was "dreadful". She said: "My husband died last year. I don't know how we'd have got to his appointments if we lost the surgery."
Another, Jackie Sanderson, said she didn't understand why the money for the super hub cannot be invested in upgrading or extending current surgeries.
Demand for tickets to the meeting was so high that the event had to be moved from its initial venue at the Guildhall to the church to be able to accommodate Salopians who want to air their views. Around 200 people were in attendance.
As well as health chiefs from Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin ICS and members of the public, there were also GPs present, and representatives from Shropshire Council.
The plans, which would affect 45,000 patients, would involve closing surgeries at their current location and moving them to a new hub. The surgeries affected are Claremont Bank, Marysville, South Hermitage, Marden, The Beeches and Belvidere. They range between 2.6 miles and 0.8 miles from the favoured site, in Oteley Road near Shrewsbury Town FC’s stadium.
Health chiefs were quizzed over several topics including transport concerns, access to the same GP and worries the surgeries would all be amalgamated into one.
Sarcastic laughs rang out as Dr Charlotte Hart, clinical lead for the project, insisted the practices would remain independent and there were no plans to merge them. "There may be laughter and you may not believe it," she said, "but there is no intention to merge the practices."
Several questions over transport to the hub were submitted by members of the public, but no concrete answers were given - only Shropshire Council's director of public health Rachel Robinson reiterating that the authority will not be paying for transport services to the health hub.
Graham Shepherd, a Marden patient who was on the surgery's patient participation group, said the level of consultation had been "totally unacceptable".
Among health chiefs who spoke at the meeting was Bayston Hill GP Ed Jutson, who said there were 20 young GPs in Shropshire who could not find a surgery to work for due to a lack of capacity. He said the hub project would help surgeries take on young doctors and was "an opportunity not to be missed".
Dr Carla Ingram, from Marden Medical Practice in Sutton Farm, said one of the doctors from her surgery left for a career break which would probably become permanent because their workload "no longer felt safe or manageable." She added that patient numbers had gone up to 10,000 from 6,500.
Dr Charlotte Hart, clinical lead for the proposal said she wanted to make it clear that "this is not a done deal" and it is still "just a proposal". She said she wanted to protect GP provision in the area but "we need to make some changes to do that".
Councillor Kate Halliday, who is chair of a cross-party working group on the town council set up to scrutinise the health hub plans, said: "The councillors here were inundated with concerns about these proposals. We're here because we really care about our GP surgeries."
NHS England would fund the hub, which could open in summer 2025. Health bosses says the project represents a significant investment in GP provision in Shrewsbury.
A consultation into the proposal which was due to take place from October to December was shelved as bosses “review additional options”.
This Thursday, there will be a meeting between health chiefs, councillors and council officials about options alternative options.
A full consultation is now anticipated for April 2023.