Campaigners fighting planned funding cuts affecting six West Norfolk GP surgeries are hoping that a new threat of legal action may offer at least a temporary reprieve.
Patients’ groups at the practices run by Vida Healthcare have already indicated they are prepared to take court action if the cuts are not reversed.
But now, solicitors from a London law firm, Leigh Day, have indicated they will seek an urgent judicial review unless health chiefs agree to suspend the cuts.
Although the case concerning the Vida surgeries does not form part of this action, or an ongoing court battle, campaigners here see the move as a further boost to their campaign.
Dan O’Connor, a member of the patient participation group (PPG) at the Hollies in Downham, one of the affected practices, said: “It is clear that they are proceeding on the basis that cuts to all PMS (personal medical services) GP surgeries must be halted.”
It emerged in February that funding for Vida Healthcare’s practices in Lynn, Downham, Dersingham and Hunstanton was to be reduced in a move which group managers say will cost them £550,000 over four years.
Health service chiefs say the decision is part of a nationwide review of how GP surgeries are funded.
And they have insisted that the cuts are necessary to ensure that money is spent where it is most needed.
But, although an appeal against the decision has been lodged, objectors argue that NHS England, the body with overall responsibility for funding nationally, acted illegally by deciding to impose the cuts without conducting a public consultation.
The organisation is already facing a legal challenge to a similar funding decision made against a practice in Yorkshire.
And Mr O’Connor said: “It really is outrageous that GPs up and down the country should now have to try and find even more time to safeguard their already inadequate NHS funding - whilst at the same time scrabble around for non-existent resources to deal with the ever lengthening queues of patients in their surgeries who need help.”
MP Sir Henry Bellingham is also seeking urgent talks with ministers on the issue.