GP patient vote ‘stage managed’, says councillor

Arun Medical Group's surgery in East Street, Littlehampton will close at the end of the month
Arun Medical Group's surgery in East Street, Littlehampton will close at the end of the month

A councillor has criticised the decision made by the Coastal West Sussex Clinical Commissioning Group to move patients to other surgeries, saying the vote was ‘stage managed’.

Mike Northeast, Arun District Councillor and Littlehampton Town Councillor, attended the Primary Care Commissioning Committee meeting on Tuesday, where the decision was made to disperse the closing East Street surgery’s patient list among the nearby practices.

Labour district councillor Mike Northeast

Labour district councillor Mike Northeast

He locked horns with committee member Chris Moore over the new housing development in Wick which will put added strain on exisiting surgeries if another medical facility is not built at The Enterprise Hub, also in Wick.

Mr Moore said ‘if local authorities choose to build new developments for thousands of people, probably for very good reasons, they have to be part of the solution’, to which Mr Northeast interjected that a substantial Section 106 fund was available for the medical facility.

The fund, which comes under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act, is made up of contributions from developers to go towards the costs of providing community and social infrastructure.

Mr Northeast said: “I found it all stage managed and the decision had already been taken. I was staggered that most of the group did not know that there is thousands of pounds available in Section 106 monies from all the house building in Wick. The decision was made without all the facts.”

Earlier in the meeting Mr Northeast asked if the commissioning group agreed 
that ‘GP provision in Littlehampton and Wick is at crisis point’, stating that ‘by allowing Arun Medical Group to close it will leave thousands of people without a GP and with the inconvenience of having to find another practice that will accept new patients’.

He called for the group to replace the East Street surgery and provide a new facility in the north of Littlehampton to meet the town’s needs.

In response, clinical director at the CCG, David Whitehead, said that the group did not ‘allow’ Arun Medical Group’s surgeries to close as they ‘had no ability to stop them’.

“They are a contractor with this organisation, and although we are delighted with the provision of service they have given to the patients, if they say they are going to shut, we can’t prevent them. It isn’t a case of us allowing them to close, it is us saying with deep regret that they have handed in their contract and unfortunately we have no option but to accept that.”

Mr Whitehead said starting a new surgery before the East Street practice shut its doors at the end of October would be ‘impossible’.

“The surgery is so much more than bricks and mortar; it is the staff inside. From our experience here and across the land, it is impossible to suddenly start a new practice.

“It is regrettable. In the old days it was possible but it doesn’t work like that anymore. There is such a crisis in manpower; I’m sorry, but that is a fact.”

After the meeting, members of the Bognor Regis and Littlehampton constituency Labour Party said they were ‘surprised and angered at the lack of forward planning’ by the clinical commissioning group.

They said: “We disagree that their decision to adopt a proposal to disperse the patients affected by the closure of the Arun Medical Group surgeries in Littlehampton and East Preston across other surgeries is the best option. We fail to see how this meets not just the needs of the directly affected patients and yet maintains ease of access to GP services for existing patients in those other surgeries where currently there is already a five week lead in for routine appointments.

“The proposal also ignores the impact of new patients moving into the area in the current and future housing developments. All the other surgeries in the area recently closed their lists to new patients in ‘the interests of “patient safety’; how long before these lists close again, or another practice fails, and what reassurance exists that the other surgeries will not “cherry pick” which patients they are prepared to take on?”