Following extensive work carried out by local health commissioners, Winchester City Council and The Friarsgate Practice, it has been revealed today that closure of the branch surgery in Kings Worthy, which serves 52 people, is being actively considered.
Back at the start of 2015, the Friarsgate branch surgery in Kings Worthy closed suddenly, but it was quickly ascertained that the closure was temporary while urgent repairs were carried out to the building in Pound Road. Owned by Winchester City Council, it is in a very poor state so, while the NHS was able to get it operational again within a matter of weeks, there was no question of it staying as the permanent home for a modern GP surgery.
Local MP Steve Brine was at the heart of discussions at the time, and has worked extensively with the practice over the past year.
He said: "The service currently offered is just three GP and one nurse session a week and I understand it has become increasingly difficult in recent years to provide safe, responsive, high quality clinical care at Pound Road.
"So after several discussions myself in early 2015 with NHS England, the West Hampshire Care Commissioning Group (CCG), Winchester City Council and The Friarsgate Practice, I was pleased the partners agreed to commission a dedicated consultant to work up options for the long-term."
Steve continues: "Marc Dryden, who some of you will have met at the drop-in event at Tubbs Hall last October, has spent the last seven months exploring every possible way we can keep primary care services in Kings Worthy. A requested, he has liaised closely with me, local councillors and the Parish Council as well as many residents and important figures such as Eric Norgbay at the independent Springvale Pharmacy.
"Marc has also carefully examined exactly who uses the surgery (either exclusively or in-part) and who in the village already chooses to travel the three miles into Weeke to visit the GP. I am advised that just 52 people exclusively use the surgery in Pound Road; many who might preferring to go to Friarsgate with its proximity to the shops."
During the course of his work, Marc has considered, and had to discount, the following options;
1) Building an extension to Springvale Pharmacy - but the site proved too small to accommodate the necessary services
2) Converting the warden's flat at Harwood Place – but it proved too small
3) The vacant Hampshire County Council property at The Grove (next to the primary school) – but it is earmarked for residential use with an anticipated £1m+ sale price
4) Probably most feasible was a new build on land opposite Tubbs Hall and architects drew up plans at an estimated cost of £736,000 – but this required buy in from other local GP practices and all, for one reason or another, preferred to remain exclusively in their current premises
Steve says: "Liaising with Marc, I personally looked into The Infrastructure Fund from Government as potential source of funding for a new build but when considered against the need for new GP practises in other parts of West Hampshire, combined with a lack of interest from other local practices and just 1794 potential patients in Kings Worthy, it was clear a bid from our CCG would not be successful.
"As already said, everyone agreed the status quo was not an option due to the unsuitable nature of the Pound Road building which meant signing a new long-term lease with Winchester City Council was not viable. Even if that were to be done, I have my doubts it would satisfy the (rightly) tough conditions of a CQC inspection in years to come.
"So, it is with huge regret that I have now been informed the West Hampshire CCG has concluded that closure of the branch surgery in Kings Worthy is the only viable option and is being actively considered. The Friarsgate Practice will write to all residents this week informing of this option and a 30-day consultation will begin. Part of that will be a further engagement drop-in session which I understand will be held on Saturday 5th March 2016 from 10am-12noon at The Friarsgate Practice in Stoney Lane, Weeke."
There are a number of important things to note as this happens in the coming months:
1) Any closure will not happen immediately. Although the lease Friarsgate have with WCC is now expired, Steve has encouraged them to a rolling renewal while they work closely with the affected patients, Winchester City Council and the voluntary sector. Steve has today spoken with the Leader of WCC to ask for help in this regard.
2) Friarsgate have committed to work on a care plan for each and every one of the 52 patients so they are not left in the lurch. This absolutely does include some form of travel plan for the 3 miles between Kings Worthy and Weeke. Furthermore, Steve knows Friarsgate are absolutely committed to ensuring continuity of care for their elderly patients with their regular named GP in line with the Government's commitment to over-75's in this respect.
Steve added: "It goes without saying I am extremely disappointed we have arrived at this point. However, I cannot say The Friarsgate Practice and the local NHS have done anything but treat this with the attention it deserves. They have worked so hard to explore every possible way we can keep safe primary care services in Kings Worthy but it doesn't appear to have proved possible. They have worked closely with me and all your local representatives but, given the small number of people using the branch surgery, they are right to use NHS resources in the most effective way possible.
"I met with the leaders at West Hampshire CCG yesterday (Monday) at their HQ in Eastleigh to discuss the position and know from talking to the partners at Friarsgate myself in recent days, that Drs Stannard, Lambert and Baker (the three visiting Kings Worthy GPs) feel this deeply. They really do want to provide a new model of service which will in the long-run be better for all concerned and tell me they are confident this will be achieved.
"I promised last year that I would stay very close to this and keep constituents informed and I will, of course, go on doing that."
Steve Brine is active right across his Winchester & Chandler's Ford constituency. You can now see news specific to where you live via our community pages.