Plans for a new GP health hub in Bicester were scrapped at the end of last month due to the ‘inadequate level of funding’ and delays from slow planning approvals.
The hub, which was the initiative of two local GPs and their development partner, Assura PLC, sought to increase primary care capacity in an area with a fast-growing population.
However, as a result of Cherwell District Council’s slow planning approval process and rising costs associated with inflation and the war in Ukraine, the plans became ‘unviable’.
In 2019 Dr Toby Quartley of Alchester Medical Group and Dr Will O’Gorman of Montgomery-House Surgery put forward the idea to bring together their two practices in a purpose-built health facility at Graven Hill in Bicester.
Altogether the current GP practices serve around 38,000 patients, while the hub’s intended capacity on opening would have been 40,000 with scope to go up to 60,000.
The plans were first agreed in December 2020 with Oxfordshire CCG, but the funding for the project has been passed onto Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West (BOB) ICB since its establishment.
The ICB said in a statement: ‘Planning delays and the Covid pandemic have delayed the build, while the costs of the new premises have risen significantly.
‘The NHS Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire ICB, which now manages local NHS funds, is working with the GP practices in Bicester to explore other ways to provide services for new residents in Bicester.’
Despite receiving planning permission for the hub in January 2022, since then the ICB and Assura have not been able to agree a funding arrangement to proceed to construction, which was planned for this year.
The main rationale for building this facility was the rate at which the area’s population is growing, with between 15,000 and 20,000 more people expected to arrive by 2035, according to a spokesperson for the two practices.
But the hub also had other intended benefits, such as providing more services locally that are currently only available in larger towns, and attracting more GPs to the area with better teaching facilities.
Dr Quartley and Dr O’Gorman said in a joint statement: ‘This is sad news for the two GP practices, their patients and all Bicester residents, who deserve and expect improved primary health facilities.
‘Our practices have invested much time and energy to help provide a solution through the proposed health hub.
‘Now this isn’t possible, it turns to the local health service commissioners, the NHS and others, to see what they can come up with to help address the very serious pressures on Bicester healthcare – and to act soon.’
The two practices have put out a statement which said: ‘We are disappointed to announce that plans of Alchester Medical Group and Montgomery-House Surgery to relocate their GP practices to a new purpose-built health hub facility at Graven Hill in Bicester are now considered unviable and are therefore not moving forward.
‘The practices’ development partner, Assura PLC, has concluded with regret that there is now clearly an inadequate level of funding available from NHS sources and therefore all Bicester health hub-focused activity will cease.’
Plans to build health hubs in other areas have been criticised by some GP leaders and residents, with recent proposals for three new health centres in Sheffield causing concerns about patient transport difficulties.