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Villagers to buy surgery in bid to alleviate recruitment problems

A parish council in Sussex is planning to spend £500,000 buying a surgery building to keep a GP practice for 3,000 patients in their village.

Rotherfield Parish Council is applying for a £500,000 loan from the Government’s Local Public Works Loans Board to buy the Rotherfield surgery in a bid to attract more partners.

It follows the GPs’ ‘reluctant’ application to close the Rotherfield surgery and transfer the care of all its patients to the Jarvis Brooks practice Brook Health Centre two miles away, which already has a list of 4,000.

Their two-year search for a new partner over two years proved unsuccessful when applicants dropped out for financial reasons, and the council are hoping that reducing the premises liabilities will prove more attractive for prospective partners. 

The parish council is getting the practice valued before it submits a loan application.

Deputy chair Louise Henrick, who chairs the surgery working group said the council will be setting its precept to cover the loan repayments at its meeting on 13 February.

‘I have not met anyone who wants it closed,’ she said.

The council is also looking at ways to support day-to-day expenses, agree what services the doctors will provide, and negotiate a rent with NHS High Weald Lewes Havens CCG if the scheme goes ahead.

It also plans to renovate the building and let rooms to other health care professionals.

Local charity the Rotherfield Trust pledged £100,000 to help with the purchase and running costs, while the friends group and the Rotherfield St Martin charity are also fund-raising.

A final decision by the partners is not expected until after 21 February.

More than 400 residents turned out to a public meeting last November to discuss a strategy to keep the practice open.

Dr John Davies, a partner at the practice, told them: ‘So to ensure a future of the practice we have to attract partners. It is very difficult as partners reduce in numbers to run a successful and conscientious practice, so to make the practice more attractive we either have to increase our income or reduce our expenses.’

He said it would be very difficult to run two sites with one or two partners, after his retirement.

He said: ‘For me medicine has never been about money. This is totally alien to me today, to be here talking about what we earn and what we are going to be doing, but unfortunately it is an aspect of what the NHS are making us do today. It is almost like being in the front line for some of the changes they want and taking the hit for it.’

Last year Thurrock council announced plans to buy the premises of East Tilbury Medical Centre to keep a 3,000-list practice in the community.