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Residents campaign for local council to invest in GP premises

Residents campaigining for their local council to invest funds in new GP premises have likened access to a ‘third world’ country.

The campaigners, from Redbridge, Essex, want their council to follow the example of Basildon, where council funding made the opening of a new GP practice possible last year.

The group, representing several resident associations, wants Redbridge Council explore the opportunity of following Basildon’s strategy acting as developer of GP premises, and collecting rent from GP tenants.

Basildon Council celebrated the opening of the £2m ‘state-of-the-art’ Wickford GP surgery, with £500,000 worth of funding supplied by Essex County Council in July last year.

Speaking at a deputation to the council two weeks ago, campaign group representative Intisar Shah said:  ‘I’m here to ask the council to facilitate a greater number of GP doctors in the Redbridge area, especially in areas of need such as Ilford South.’

He said this comes as at his local surgery ‘you have to queue up at the door at 8am in the morning if you want to stand a chance of getting a so-called emergency five-minute appointment’.

‘There was [also] a point when you could phone up and you wouldn’t get an appointment for eight weeks. That is unacceptable,’ he added.

Mr Shah said he had unsuccessfully queued for an appointment and seen a mother and her sick child turned away.

‘This is something you might expect to see in the third world, it’s not something you expect to see in the third ward of Seven Kings.’

Referring to the Basildon model, he said: ‘It’s a win-win. The council gets something out of it and it makes it easier for the GPs as well.’

Redbridge councillor Dev Sharma said the council was ‘very well aware [of] residents’ concern over the poor availability of GP services’.

But councillor Mark Santos, who has been in contact with the campaigners, said: ‘This is a complex issue that isn’t just about buildings, but also about the recruitment and retention of staff, of GPs, of primary care practitioners too. It’s not a straightforward, one-size fix to an issue.’

A Redbridge Council spokesperson said: ‘We welcome residents raising this issue with us. Ensuring local people, especially the most vulnerable, have access to GP appointments when they need them is vital. That’s why we are working closely with our health colleagues and campaigning for better, more accessible GP services. Our priorities are more appointments, better opening hours and good facilities. We intend to continue to campaign until our residents get the service they need.’

Thurrock Council, also in Essex, stepped into to purchase the building housing East Tilbury Medical Centre last year so it could continue providing GP services after its owner was declared bankrupt.