A tourist triage phone line costing £170,000 is being funded by an ICB, instead of the money going to local GP services.
Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care Board (ICB) withdrew £73,000 of funding from Central Lakes Medical Group to finance the tourist service, forcing partners at its Ambleside and Hawkshead practices to hand back their contract last month.
Now that plans for the tourist service have been revealed, local people have reacted with disbelief.
A proposal document from NHS Morecambe CCG in June this year, seen by Pulse, said: ‘To support the local tourist population it is proposed that a dedicated telephone triage line is provided between the hours of 8am and 6.30pm Monday to Friday during peak tourist periods (13 weeks per year)’.
The number will be freephone and the service will ‘liaise with NHS secondary, community, primary and social care providers for the referral into their services as required’.
‘This service would aim to undertake clinical triage assessment and direct patients appropriately to relevant health services and where required,’ it said, with hopes of preventing ‘inappropriate access to local health services’.
Locally registered patients ‘would be excluded and asked to contact their own practice’, it added.
The service would link up with existing out-of-hours provision for evening and weekend cover.
The document proposes the triage costs for the 13-week peak holiday season will be £106,268.
Two GP practices would also be chosen to ‘host dedicated tourist urgent care sessions throughout the peak holiday period, with walk-in access available’, the costs for which are estimated at £70,750.
A communications campaign costing £5,000 is also suggested, including ‘posters, information leaflets and credit card-sized “health service contacts card” for tourists’.
Hawkshead business owner Maria Whitehead, patient of the Central Lakes Medical Group and part of the patient participation group for the practice, wrote an open letter to Lancashire and South Cumbria ICB expressing her frustration.
The letter, seen by Pulse, said the funding withdrawal leading to the handing back of the GP contract was a ‘real kick in the teeth’ to Lake District residents.
She said it ‘beggars belief’ that the pilot for the tourist provision is based on ‘just 13 weeks of peak tourist season’.
Ms Whitehead wrote: ‘Can I ask you to envisage a moment when you are enjoying a day out in the Lakes and one member of your family suddenly becomes acutely unwell, what do you do? Do you look around for a poster that tells you to ring a number?’
She said that the local community have a ‘right’ to keep the continuity of having GPs they know, and know them, and said residents should not be ‘penalised’ for living in an area with lots of tourists.
She asked: ‘Can you hand on heart say that a telephone triage is the best way to assist people in a moment of crisis regardless of the cost?’ and ‘How is the funding going to work for a new set of GPs if it can’t work for those already running it?’
Ms Whitehead told Pulse she is yet to receive a response from her letter but that the patient participation group are hoping to have a public meeting with the ICB in due course to understand the rationale behind the funding withdrawal.
A spokesperson for the practice also previously told Pulse the tourist service was designed without input from local GPs.
They said: ‘The design of the pilot did not involve input by practices or PCN. The only funding available to practices was to provide additional sessions specifically for tourists which needed to be booked via the triage service.’
‘The practice would no longer control the triage of tourist access to its service.’
However, a Lancashire and South Cumbria ICB spokesperson said that ‘all practices within the Grange and Lakes PCN’ were ‘involved in designing the services’ to support both tourist and registered populations.
They added that ‘all sites across the PCN are offering extra appointments as part of this face-to-face tourism service pilot’ and that practices ‘will receive an income for this work’.
The ICB said a caretaker provider will run Central Lakes Medical Group from January until March next year, by which time a new GP provider will be confirmed.
Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron said in a letter to the ICB, seen by Pulse, that he was ‘deeply concerned’ that an offer will be made by a private for-profit company to run the practices, which he said would be ‘devastating’ for the local communities.
He said: ‘I do not want a scenario where my constituents are forced to deal with a rotating cast of locum practitioners instead of a locally-led practice that provides strong continuity of service and care.’
Mr Farron also wrote to then-health secretary Steve Barclay asking for his support to ensure the practices ‘remain open and in the hands of local GPs’.