'We have been ignored!' Patients and councillors slam handling of King's Lynn surgery closure plan
The leader of West Norfolk Council has suggested health bosses who are proposing to shut a Lynn doctors' surgery do not care for the area it serves.
The comment was made as community leaders and patients renewed their attack on plans to close the Fairstead Surgery during a consultation event tonight.
But officials from its current operator claim they have been left with little choice but to axe the site.
There are now just two weeks left until the consultation on proposals to shut the surgery ends.
Its operator, Vida Healthcare, claims the building is not fit for purpose and wants to give its 4,000 patients the option of being treated at either the Gayton Road Health Centre or the St Augustine’s surgery in North Lynn instead.
But critics argue the practice has been run down by Vida over several years and not enough has been done to ensure those most affected by the plan could have their say on it.
Among those voicing opposition to the plan during the session at the Knights Hill Hotel was West Norfolk Council leader, Brian Long.
He echoed the views of many in the room when he said he feared closure was a "fait accompli."
He also admitted that the authority had sold land previously earmarked for a new surgery to the NHS, but accused them of selling it on to a private developer without giving them the chance to buy it back and said he hoped public opposition would prevent the development of housing there.
And he expressed the hope that a surgery could still operate from the current site even if the closure plan is given the go-ahead.
Former Fairstead GP Dr Mumtaz Ahmed owns the building and has expressed his hope of re-registering the surgery as an independent practice.
Mr Long said: "He will regret ever entering into an agreement (with Vida).
"But if this is a fait accompli, when they hand the building back to its owner, I hope he will do the right thing by the people of Fairstead and reform Fairstead Surgery without the incumberance of a company that just does not care."
However, Vida partner Dr Mark Funnell said they had tried to secure a new practice for Fairstead after completing its merger, only to be told its case for investment was not viable.
He also insisted the organisation had delivered "successful" care in West Norfolk and would act on public criticism of its telephone system for obtaining appointments and its public communication.
He said: "We want to find the best way to continue to provide care to you.
"I have an understanding of how you love your surgery.
"But I run a business that has to meet the needs of now and the future. Some of the things there don't even meet today's needs and there's no way it will meet the needs of 15 years down the road, which is what we have to look at."
Earlier, Dr Penelope Watkins, secretary of the surgery’s patient participation group, said a similar proposal affecting a surgery in Wolverhampton had seen patients and their representatives take a full role in the consultation, which had also been extended twice, with clear information made available on the practice’s website.
She said: “We have been ignored since the merger (of Fairstead into Vida).”
Another resident claimed she had only become aware of the closure proposal when she received a text message from Vida two weeks ago, nearly two months after the process began.
But Anna Weston, Vida’s director of people and governance, said they had taken legal advice before issuing the message, claiming they had been concerned about breaching data protection legislation – prompting a shout of “Nonsense” from the floor.
Meanwhile, Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk, which has been brought in to oversee the consultation process, revealed that 273 responses had been received so far.
That equates to less than seven per cent of the total number of patients currently registered there.
But, even though officials insisted there has been no decision on the surgery's future yet, speakers reporting the outcome of group discussions which took place during the session, repeatedly set out the view that the fate of the practice had already been sealed.
One of them, Sue Payne, said: "I have a nasty feeling minds have already been made up."
The consultation closes on August 30. A survey on the proposals is available here. Printed copies are also available at the practices and other locations on the Fairstead estate.