A health chief insists that long-term options to deliver some services at a soon-to-be closed village surgery are being explored, amid a determined fight from residents and community leaders to save it.
Coquetdale communities were left stunned last week after a bombshell announcement by NHS England that the facility at Harbottle would be closing tomorrow, in the ‘interests of patient safety’.
NHS England has said that it has been forced to wield the axe after Dr Rina Miah took the ‘sudden decision not to continue with her GP contract’, which is known as a PMS.
The shock announcement also means that Harbottle’s branch surgeries at Rothbury Community Hospital and Otterburn village hall will be affected, in what has been described as being an ‘exceptional situation’.
The decision will impact more than 800 people.
The news has rallied the community and determined locals have sprung in to action to try to secure the future of the site. A Help Save Harbottle Surgery public meeting is taking place on Tuesday, at Clennell Hall Farm (NE65 7BG), from 7.30pm.
Christine Keen, from NHS England, is set to attend the event, as are representatives from Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group, Northumbria NHS Trust, Healthwatch Northumberland, Northumberland County Council, Northumberland National Park and a representative of MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan.
A petition has been created and is available to sign in villages throughout the area, as well as online at http://ti nyurl.com/o8ttxnw
Ward councillor Steven Bridgett has rallied the troops ahead of the meeting. He said: “Proposing to close any of our vital healthcare services is a line we should not allow anyone to cross.
“I am pleased to say that more positive discussions are now taking place with NHS England regarding the future of the Harbottle GP Practice and that longer-term solutions are now being looked at.”
Coun Bridgett added: “I think NHS England have been quite surprised by how quickly the patients have mobilised to fight this planned closure and I would urge residents from across the Coquet and Rede Valleys to come along to the public meeting to hear from NHS England directly and to ask questions.”
Explaining the rationale behind the decision, Dr Craig Melrose, medical director for NHS England (Cumbria and North East), said: “We have sent a letter to all affected patients of Dr Miah to reassure them about what they can do to access alternative GP services, now she has taken the sudden decision not to continue with her contract.
“In recent weeks, the current provider has been experiencing difficulties and this has resulted in a very limited service for patients.
“Lack of GP availability during this period has led to concerns, which the current contract holder does not feel able to address, that the practice is not able to provide a safe level of service for patients.
“Consequently, services provided at the main surgery and from branch sites at Rothbury and Otterburn will end tomorrow and patients have been asked to register with another GP practice.
“This decision has not been taken lightly, but we have concluded that it is necessary in the interests of patient safety.
“Until that date, NHS England will continue to work with the provider and the emergency measures that are currently in place at the practice will continue.
“Patients will be able to access these services by contacting the practice as normal and consist of a combination of remote telephone triage, home visits being undertaken by the out-of-hours provider and limited locum cover.
“In some instances, where patients require an appointment, they are being directed by the practice to other local GP practices who have agreed to see Harbottle patients on an immediate and necessary basis.
“Our primary and immediate concern is to ensure patients can continue to access primary-care services while alternatives for long-term service provision are explored.
“We have already undertaken discussions with other GP practices in the local area and an immediate option is for patients to register with one of them.
“We cannot stress how important it is for patients with ongoing health concerns to register with an alternative practice and we are working with the current provider to identify vulnerable patients and those in immediate need of ongoing primary-care services.
“Although the patients of the practice reside in a number of areas, the majority of patients reside in the boundary of Rothbury and Bellingham practices; the remainder of patients are able to register with other practices in the area.
“In exceptional circumstances, where a patient does not reside in the boundary of a practice, we are working to put arrangements in place and will liaise directly with affected patients on this matter.
“We do not underestimate how distressing this will be for patients, but please be assured that continued access to high-quality primary-care services for patients remains our priority.
“Due to exceptional circumstances and the timescales involved, securing an interim alternative provider to operate the service has not been possible.
“However, I can confirm that in parallel with the emergency provisions outlined, we are continuing to explore long-term alternatives for delivery of some services from the Harbottle site.
“These arrangements will not be in place before the current service ends.”