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Housing development to go ahead despite GP and councillor concerns

Plans for new houses in a village in East Neuk of Fife have been approved despite warnings from local GP leaders and councillors that practices will be unable to recruit more GPs to deal with the influx of new patients.

Developer Lochay Homes submitted an application to Fife Council in March to build 86 houses in St Monans village.

In a document released last month, council planning officers confirmed the proposals will go ahead on the condition that they meet a series of criteria in relation to the provision of affordable housing, funding for a link road and transfer of land for some proposed allotments.

But Fife LMC has said the new homes will destabilise local GP surgeries, at a time when general practice is already faced with pressures – and councillors have warned of the ‘huge shortage’ of GPs in Scotland.

The developer acknowledged fears about the impact of the new houses on healthcare services but stressed it was down to central government to provide additional funding for more GPs.

Fife LMC secretary Dr Susie Mitchell said the plans have caused ‘significant concerns’ in St Monans.

She added: ‘This is a huge concern all over Fife….Practices of all sizes are struggling to recruit and retain due to rising workload, increased list sizes due to development with no realistic primary care planning, and the pension crisis.’

Lochay Homes said: ‘Concerns raised regarding health care services and provision are noted, however, this is not an issue that can be addressed by the planning system. The NHS operate a list system which allocates a certain number of registered patients per GP.

‘If a GP has too many patients registered, then funding is available for a new GP as part of that practice’s business case to expand services where required to meet additional demand. The funding of healthcare is an issue for central government and there is no policy or legal mechanism in place for the planning system to require a developer to remedy this situation.’ 

However Liberal Democrat councillor for Taybridgehead Tim Brett said the ongoing GP shortage in the country will make it difficult for local practices serving St Monans to recruit any additional staff, even with extra funding.

He said: ‘In the East Neuk of Fife the local population are concerned that their GP services are under pressure. This is 86 more houses that might produce another 200 patients for the local practice.

‘The problem with that is there is a huge shortage of GPs in Scotland so even if they [practices] get extra money they might not be able to recruit any extra medical help.’

Bill Porteous, Liberal Democrat councillor for East Neuk and Landward, also highlighted that one of the two local practices has had ‘considerable difficulty’ managing its existing patient list.

He said: ‘I raised concerns that any new housing development – even 86 new homes with families – should have had a proper consultation with the medical practices and Fife council planning officers.’

Pulse approached NHS Fife for comment.  

In England, a housing developer agreed to help fund a new GP practice in Nuneaton as part of proposals to build 621 new homes

Another developer in the south of England will also contribute to the building of a new ‘super-practice’ due to the development of 1,700 homes in the area.

Pulse revealed last year that local authorities are not giving GP surgeries enough share of funding they receive from housing developers, meaning practices wishing to expand are missing out on millions despite the influx of new residents.