Patients’ leaders ponder legal challenge against funding cuts to West Norfolk GP surgeries

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Patients’ groups have warned they are considering legal action over plans to cut funding for a group of six West Norfolk GP practices.

Officials have defended their decision to reduce the amount of money given to Vida Healthcare, which runs three surgeries in Lynn, plus sites in Downham, Dersingham and Hunstanton.

But group managers say the cuts, of between £250,000 and £550,000 a year, will mean the 37,000 patients they serve have to wait longer for treatment.

And members of the practices’ patient participation groups (PPGs) have indicated they are likely to join an ongoing legal challenge to similar decisions elsewhere in the country unless the issue is addressed.

Dan O’Connor, a PPG member at the Hollies in Downham, which is one of the affected practices, said: “The whole system is breaking down. It’s very worrying.”

The dispute stems from a national review of contracts instigated by NHS England in 2013.

Ruth Derrett, Locality Director for NHS England (East) said: “We have carried out a review of all Personal Medical Services (PMS) practices as part of a national programme.

“The outcome for some practices in Norfolk was a reduction in funding over a four year period. This funding would then be reinvested into GP services in the area by the local clinical commissioning group, which is best placed to identify appropriate need.

“I can confirm that Vida Healthcare has formally appealed against the results of the review and that the appeal will now be reviewed by the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt.”

A spokesman for the West Norfolk clinical commissioning group (CCG) added: “Working in partnership, NHS England, NHS West Norfolk CCG and the Norfolk and Waveney LMC have met with Vida Healthcare to discuss the PMS review, a national process all PMS practices have had to undertake, with discussions focused on the continued delivery of high quality patient-centred services.

“As per national guidance, the funding released from the PMS review process will be reinvested locally to support all GP practices within the CCG area.”

But Dr Gareth Allen, Vida Healthcare’s medical director, said they would still be expected to care for the same number of patients as they do at the moment even as more and more money is taken from their budgets.

He said the company, which runs the Gayton Road Health Centre, Fairstead Surgery and St Augustine’s Surgery in Lynn, the Carole Brown Health Centre in Dersingham and the Hunstanton Medical Practice as well as the Hollies, wanted to be open with patients about the cuts.

He said they were trying to work out where savings could be made, but claimed few efficiencies could be found, meaning the impact would be felt directly at the front line.

He added: “Most of our costs are in salaries, so people will have to leave and we’ll have patients waiting longer.”

The current court case was lodged last November by a patient of a practice in Slaithwaite, Yorkshire, where doctors claim a similar review of their contract will slash their budget by more than 40 per cent.

It alleges that NHS England acted illegally in imposing the changes without engaging in adequate public consultation.

The case may become what is known as a class action, where a large number of organisations with similar grievances are represented by a single individual or group.

PPG representatives say they will lobby MPs and senior NHS England bosses before making a final decision on whether to take part.