I was at the public meeting to discuss the closure of the Harbottle GP surgery and saw at first hand the concern and anger of the residents whose health has been put at risk from this closure, without any consultation and with only a few days notice.
There is something unacceptably wrong about this situation in which the remotest NHS General Practice in Northumberland, and probably the country, has put at risk the health of 800 patients and has put forward alternatives that are simply not viable or appropriate for this deep rural area.
The Harbottle surgery covers 1,600 square miles in the Upper Rede and Coquet Valleys. There seems to be very little understanding of what this means for people who live in this remote area. Life is entirely different compared to living in a city or urban areas and needs totally different approaches to providing a service.
A key issue that comes out of this is the lack of public transport. Many people in this area simply do not have access to public transport, whilst others have only one bus each day to the main centres.
Distances are big, for example, Rothbury, the centre of Upper Coquetdale, is 10 miles from Harbottle and much further from Elsden and the Upper Rede Valley. Not all residents have personal transport and those who do have to manage this facility in an area where average earnings are considerably under those of people in city or urban areas.
At the heart of this debate is the point that people who live in rural areas should not be disadvantaged compared to people who live in city and urban areas.
It calls for Government and policy makers to ensure that their policies and practices, and funding regimes, are appropriate to the people and area they are serving. One model does not fit all.
Whatever happened to contingency planning to meet situations like this?
Community Action Northumberland is the rural community council for Northumberland and is very concerned for the people of the Harbottle Practice. We trust that the NHS is going to act swiftly to restore the Harbottle GP surgery service with the minimum of delay.
Chairman Community Action Northumberland