Shock as Northumberland surgery to close

The closed Harbottle Surgery
The closed Harbottle Surgery

Coquetdale communities are in shock after a bombshell decision to shut a village GP practice from next week.

NHS England has announced that the facility in Harbottle will close from August 28, while its branch surgeries at Rothbury Community Hospital and Otterburn village hall will also be affected, in what has been described as being an ‘exceptional situation’. The decision will impact more than 800 people.

The news was posted on Facebook by ward councillor Steven Bridgett late yesterday afternoon and he is calling for a public meeting with senior directors of NHS England.

Dr Craig Melrose, interim medical director for NHS England Cumbria and the North East, said: “We can confirm Dr Miah at Harbottle Surgery has had difficulty in providing access to services for patients within recent weeks and, unfortunately, these issues have not been resolved.

“NHS England’s main priority is to ensure patients have access to high-quality GP services, therefore the practice will close from August 28, 2015, with no further service provided at Harbottle or the practice’s two branch surgeries at Rothbury and Otterburn.

“In light of this exceptional situation, patients will need to register with a new practice to ensure continuity of care.

“We can provide reassurance that there are other practices in the surrounding area which have capacity to register new patients.

“NHS England has worked closely with NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group to ensure arrangements are in place for patients to access alternative GP services and we are writing to patients to provide advice on how to register with another GP practice.

“We are also working to identify any patients who need additional support during this process, to ensure a smooth and immediate transition to a new GP.”

Coun Bridgett has spoken to NHS England this morning and admitted that he has been left with more questions than answers.

He said: “The most apparent thing from my conversations is that none of the people taking these decisions have visited our area or are aware of the sparse and remote geography of it, the poor transport links or the fact we have a large elderly population that is higher than the national average.

“I informed NHS England that I thought the way they had handled this process had not put the patients at the forefront of their decisions and had been carried out more on an administrative basis than on patient care, which in my view should be primary.

“I am led to believe that letters will be going to patients of the Harbottle Surgery in the next 48 hours informing them of what they should do next, with regard to registering at another surgery. Those in Upper Coquetdale and across to Elsdon which are covered by the Rothbury Practice boundary should look to register there. Those over at Otterburn and Byrness are being recommended to register with Bellingham.

“I’m not letting this go! I have requested that the senior directors from NHS England come to Harbottle and attend a public meeting, to meet with residents and patients so they can actually hear what those affected have to say but also provide some more detailed answers than what they have done so far. They have agreed to do this and I will look to arrange that meeting in the next two weeks.”

Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan has joined the fight.

She said: “Patients will be asked to register with Rothbury or Bellingham surgery for now, who have agreed to take these patients. You can choose which surgery to register with. It is important that everyone actually goes and registers – they will not be transferred automatically.

“NHS England has agreed, after some badgering, to meet me and the practice leads from those practices in the weeks ahead to make a long-term plan to incorporate Harbottle Surgery into an existing practice, or even to find a new practice contractor potentially.

“These negotiations may of course take some time to reach a good outcome, but I have got through to them the logistics and area covered by Harbottle and the serious risk to patient care and safety if there is no doctor in the valley. I will push for these discussions to start as soon as possible.

“NHS England will be sending a member of their team to Harbottle tomorrow to identify the most vulnerable patients and ensure they are registered immediately.”

Harbottle is in the Northumberland National Park (NNP) and chairman of the NNP Authority, Glen Sanderson, voiced his concerns. He said: “The Harbottle Surgery is hugely important to local communities in the National Park and I hope very much that an alternative provision will be found as a matter of great urgency and that normal service is resumed as soon as possible so people do not suffer.”

NHS England has suggested alternative practices that people can register to. These are: The Rothbury Practice Rothbury Site, 3 Market Place, Rothbury, NE65 7UW, 01669 620339; The Rothbury Practice Longframlington Site, Longframlington, Morpeth, NE65 8AD, 01665 570311; Scot’s Gap Medical Group, The Surgery, Scot’s Gap, Morpeth, NE61 4EG, 01670 774216; The Bondgate Surgery Infirmary Close, Alnwick, NE66 2NL, 01665 510888; Middle Farm Surgery, 51 Main Street, Felton, Morpeth, NE65 9PR, 01670 787353; The Bellingham Practice, Bellingham, Hexham, NE48 2HE, 01434 220203; Glendale Surgery, Cheviot Primary Care Centre, Padgepool Place, Wooler, NE71 6BL, 01668 281740; Humshaugh and Wark Medical Group, The Surgery, Humshaugh, Hexham, NE46 4AA, 01434 681281.