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Discussions between Vida Healthcare and West Norfolk councillors over threatened Fairstead Surgery

The operators of a threatened Lynn doctors' surgery have been urged to meet councillors for talks about its future.

Norfolk County Council's Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which discussed the issue at a meeting in Norwich today, recommended that Vida Healthcare should hold detailed discussions with councillors who want the surgery to remain open.

Independent councillor Alex Kemp told the committee the borough council has offered investment for a new surgery at Fairstead and they support the current Centre Point surgery on the estate.

Norfolk County Council headquarters where Fairstead Surgery was discussed today
Norfolk County Council headquarters where Fairstead Surgery was discussed today

In response, Melanie Craig the chief officer of the Norfolk and Waveney NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups, said it was a “generous offer” from the borough council, and she would be “very keen” to meet both district and West Norfolk councillors.

However, she also said the main concern with the Fairstead Surgery is the “quality of the building and long-term issues.”

The meeting was told that the Care Quality Commission (CQC) declared the site non-compliant in 2012, though this is disputed by objectors.

Fairstead Surgery
Fairstead Surgery

Committee members heard an inspection at the time highlighted that rooms within the surgery were too small, especially for operations, and the corridors were too narrow, posing potential problems for wheelchair access.

Ross Collett, director of operations for the West Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said: “The partnership has a duty to view the premises and as far as we are concerned they are not compliant, the bricks and mortar and services are two different things.”

Dr Mark Funnell, a Downham GP and partner of Vida, told the committee there has never been a problem with the actual care at Fairstead, but rather the “technical regulations”.

Save Fairstead Surgery Group, councillors, patients, PPG representatives and residents protest outside the surgery
Save Fairstead Surgery Group, councillors, patients, PPG representatives and residents protest outside the surgery

He said a further CQC inspection in 2015 reinforced this view.

But Glyn Watkins, chairman of the surgery's patient participation group, told the committee the process had been a “sham” and that Vida should be scrutinised further.

He said: “We have accumulated five-years of substantial, irrefutable documentation.

"After five-years Vida will now have a huge debt in all probability. We already know they are not in a favourable situation to rebuild and we could refurbish the surgery for less than £50,000.

"In January 2014, Fairstead received a ‘good’ rating and Vida told a House of Commons select committee all Vida practices were good.

"The decision to close it was somewhat misled."

And county councillor for Gaywood South, Thomas Smith, highlighted the problems Fairstead patients would face if they were forced to use the Gayton Road Health Centre instead.

He said: “In terms of the local area, the Fairstead estate is statistically one the most deprived areas with people holding very small incomes.

“Fairstead Surgery has a nice car park in front of it and is near the local school. I am a patient at Gayton Road and the biggest problem is you can’t park there. It is a tiny car park.

“The nearest car park is quite a long way away and there is no footpath when walking to the surgery.”

County councillor Sheila Young, who represents Gaywood North and Central, added: “I have known Fairstead as an area for 20 years and seen the population grow remarkably in that time.

“I appreciate the need for providing enhanced care in a central position but a large amount of people at Fairstead are disadvantaged and can’t walk.

“They are going to have to pay for transport to access other surgeries which if you have three children is a no-no.”

The increased pressure on the Queen Elizabeth Hospital if Fairstead Surgery was closed was also discussed during the session.

Mr Smith said Fairstead residents would choose to walk to the QEH rather than pay for a bus to Gayton Road.

Public consultation on Fairstead Surgery runs until the end of August with 152 responses to a survey so far according to Alex Stewart, Healthwatch Norfolk's chief executive.

Speaking after the meeting, councillor Kemp said she wanted the recommendation to “go even further” than discussions between Vida and borough councillors.

“I wanted Vida Healthcare to place the option to retain Fairstead Surgery into the consultation or better still, just stop the consultation and save the Surgery,” Ms Kemp said.

Councillor Alex Kemp
Councillor Alex Kemp

"Closing Fairstead Surgery would lead to a worse service for residents. The Fairstead Surgery closure would reduce accessibility, and as the report said, there would be more telephone and online consultations. That would disadvantage older people who prefer face-to-face appointments, and people without computers at home.

"It was completely inexcusable that the report left out the Borough Council’s offer to rebuild the surgery. How dare they ignore local councillors like this.

"The cost of transport, the cost of community transport or taxi hire for those who cannot walk was not factored in.The report before the Committee was light on facts and light on reality and was a clear disgrace.

"The 2015 CQC Report says it [Fairstead] is safe, effective, caring, responsive and well-led. Good on all counts."

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