It is back to the drawing board for a new GP surgery in Littlehampton as the site has been sold.
Local NHS bosses have spent three years trying to get a new practice built at The Enterprise Hub next to the Morrisons supermarket in Wick, facing criticisms from councillors that it has taken too long.
And now the NHS has revealed that Morrisons is selling the site to a private investor.
Arun District Councillor Dr James Walsh, a former GP, said: “This is a devastating blow. I would say it is the biggest setback for healthcare locally, second only to the hospital being pulled down 12 years ago.
“Morrisons have muttered at times about wanting to sell it, but the council persuaded them not to.
“I totally feel for the local community, who have long been promised improved medical facilities, but instead they have seen them steadily diminish. Unless something positive happens soon, it is difficult to place any trust in the NHS powers that be.”
I would say it is the biggest setback for healthcare locally, second only to the hospital being pulled down 12 years agoDr James Walsh, Arun District Councillor and former GP
An NHS spokesman said plans for the new facilities had been ‘advancing well’ before this latest news and the project was on track to be delivered before planning permission for a surgery lapsed in March 2018.
Westcourt Medical Centre and Fitzalan Medical Group have been working together to run the planned surgery.
Dr Yvonne Grant, GP partner at Fitzalan Medical Group, said: “It is very disappointing that we are not going to be able to progress our plans at the Morrisons site. GP services are needed now more than ever, and there is a pressing need now for more space so we can continue to provide a high level of care to the town’s growing population.
“We understand that they are fully entitled to sell the land, but at the same time we are disappointed as we were on schedule to have our plans ready in the near future. We have been working closely with property experts from NHS England who have used their knowledge of what works well in other parts of the country to help inform our work locally and we were on track to make the new surgery a reality for people in Littlehampton.”
Dr Walsh said his ‘biggest concern’ was that this setback could mean hundreds of thousands of pounds of money allocated to building the new surgery by developers could be lost, which he said would be ‘a disgraceful situation’.
It was his belief that the new surgery had to be in the north of the town, where new housing developments were rapidly being built.
He said he would be having a ‘full and frank discussion’ with NHS bosses and fellow councillors at a meeting in the next two weeks.
Dr Grant said the setback would ‘absolutely not stop our work’: “Everything we have done to date is transferrable, and we have a plan and a clear sense of what we need from a new site to be able to provide the level of care we want to local patients. We are already working closely with Arun District Council to find a suitable alternative site. While this is not straightforward as a new surgery must be built to exacting NHS standards, we are benefitting from the Council’s expertise and knowledge of the property market in Littlehampton.”
Marie Dodd, chief operating officer at NHS Coastal West Sussex Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “The local NHS has been working really hard to move this project forward; the development of a new surgery premises is complex but this work has taken longer than we would have liked, however we were on track to achieve approval for a new health facility for the end of March 2018 in line with the current planning permission deadline.
“Positively, we have never been in a stronger position than we are now to know what services are needed in Littlehampton, what the gaps in care are, and how we can address that. We remain committed to working with local doctors to make these plans a reality.”
Dr Walsh questioned this claim. He said: “Frankly, for three years we have had very little progress on the surgery at all. They say they have learnt a lot but people in Littlehampton knew it from the beginning: there was a need for medical facilities before and it is even greater now.”
Morrisons has responded to the claims made about why the site was sold. Click here for the story.