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Patients launch campaign to stop north east practice closure

A group of patients and residents in Hartlepool has launched a vigorous campaign to prevent the closure of a local GP practice, claiming that NHS managers’ arguments for closing the practice are ‘unadulterated rubbish’.

The Fens Residents’ Association have distributed posters in the town’s shopping parade and in a popular local pub calling for residents to take action against the proposed closure of the Fens Medical Practice.

The posters read: ‘The NHS has done enough damage to our town already by stripping Hartlepool Hospital of essential services. Enough is enough, this time they have to be stopped.’

The news comes as Pulse has launched a campaign to Stop Practice Closures after revealing that more than 100 practices across the UK had either closed or were actively considering closing as a result of funding cuts and a recruitment crisis.

The Fens Medical Practice has a list of nearly 3,000 patients and opened in 2009 as part of a national initiative aimed at improving access and choice of GP services for local communities.

The practice’s APMS contract comes to an end on 31 March 2015 and residents fear that the surgery will be merged with a nearby practice on Wynyard Road (which is also under review) and the Fens premises closed.

The NHS England local area team for Durham, Darlington & Tees say that there are five other primary care providers within a two-mile radius that have ‘limited capacity’ to accept new patients. They argue that the practice’s current premises, a converted dentist practice, is neither accessible nor visible due to its position behind a row of shops and a stairwell.

However, the Fens Residents’ Association described the area team’s assessment as ‘unadulterated rubbish’, arguing that the premises are ‘superbly accessible’ with free parking and access to public transport. They suggest instead that additional signage should be provided at nearby roads and pathways.

NHS England’s local area team have opened a survey to get residents’ views, which closes on 29 September. In a statement put out alongside the survey, NHS England said: ‘The information that we have reviewed to date suggests that we need to consider setting up a new contract for a provider within the local area from 1 April 2015 to replace Fens Medical Practice and Intrahealth Wynyard Road.

‘It costs more to provide services to a smaller number of registered patients, and the type of contract that this GP practice operates under often costs more per patient than other local GP service contracts for the same or a very similar level of service. This does not represent the value for money that we aim to achieve.

‘Should a new contract be introduced, it may be with the existing provider or a new provider. We would not expect the change in contract to significantly alter the current GP services that are offered.’

The Fens Medical Practice and Wynyard Road practices are two of nine across Teeside and Hartlepool that NHS England has announced could close when their APMS contracts expire in late 2014 or early 2015.

An APMS practice at a nearby retirement village has also recently been threatened with closure as it has not reached the level of patients needed to fulfil its contract. The Hartfields Medical Centre is situated on-site at the Hartfields Retirement Village, but many of its 2,000 patients come from the surrounding area.

A spokesman from the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust, who run the retirement village, said that closing the practice would have a ‘detrimental effect’ on residents, the vast majority of whom are registered with the practice.

They said: ‘The trust does not want to see Hartfields lose the GP surgery located here. Hartfields is an innovative model of how we can provide quality care and support for the future, linked to essentials services like the on-site GP surgery. Closure could mean our residents lose some of their independence, and it could also result in residents requesting more home visits from GPs, which may have higher financial costs for the NHS.

‘Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust is formulating a formal response to the consultation being conducted by the Durham, Darlington and Tees area team of NHS England.’

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