Judicial review may be next step in fight for village surgery

Protesters at the public meeting on Tuesday night.
Protesters at the public meeting on Tuesday night.

A judicial review could be launched as part of a determined campaign to save a vital village surgery from permanent closure, following the sudden and unexpected decision to shut its doors.

Emotions are running high in the Coquet Valley and Upper Rede Valley after NHS England dropped the bombshell news that Harbottle Surgery was closing ‘in the interests of public safety’.

The shock announcement, made a fortnight ago, has also affected its satellite clinics at Rothbury Community Hospital and Otterburn Village Hall.

NHS England said it was forced to wield the axe after Dr Rina Miah took the sudden decision not to continue with her contract and was unable to provide GP cover for the surgery.

The facility closed its doors last Friday, affecting more than 800 people. NHS England has urged people to find alternative GP practices in the area while longer-term options are being considered, which could see some services being delivered from Harbottle in the future.

But residents are not impressed and on Tuesday night, hundreds packed in to a barn at Clennell Hall Farm to voice their discontent and to quiz NHS England representatives about the decision.

And as pressure mounts, Coun Steven Bridgett, ward member for Rothbury, said he is exploring grounds for a judicial review.

He said: “Following on from the public meeting, I have sought legal advice from specialists who deal with judicial reviews involving healthcare and public bodies.

“While I understand NHS England found itself in a difficult position with regard to Harbottle Surgery, I would question its handling of the process and the lack of what I believe should have been statutory consultation with residents required under the NHS Constitution.

“I will be seeking further advice over the coming days and speaking to members of the community – I think judicial review is something we should consider carefully but it may be the only route available to patients and residents to get the answers that so far have been less than forthcoming.”

Meanwhile, Healthwatch Northumberland, the local consumer champion for health and social care, has released a damning report about the surgery’s closure.

The review is in response to NHS England’s decision to close Harbottle Surgery ‘without consultation with patients and within a seven-day notice period’.

Healthwatch Northumberland recommends Harbottle Surgery’s patients consider the option of instigating a judicial review and highlights the need for a commissioned transport service to help people registered at Harbottle who can’t access alternative practices independently.

The report states that NHS England made no additional provisionor provided any additional information for vulnerable patients until after the surgery closed.

It adds that patients have raised issues about accessing alternative GPs and there were a number of people in the Coquet Valley who could not register with a new GP as they did not reside in any catchment area other than Harbottle. The document states that, on the day of the closure, 625 patients had not transferred to a new GP.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Christine Keen, director of commissioning for NHS England (Cumbria and North East), said she could not comment on the report because she had not seen it yet. She said that two practices will take on people who live outside of the other practice boundaries.

Regarding the sudden closure, Dr Tim Butler, associate medical director for NHS England, said: “Dr Miah gave us no notification prior to August that she was unable to provide services. When we are put in a position where a GP can’t provide a safe service, we have to put in place emergency procedures to make sure patients have access to services, which is where we find ourselves now.”