Monday, July 07, 2008

Save our Surgeries

The issues around health care in Cumbria (and the rest of the UK) do not just affect hospitals. I am becoming very concerned at the impact of several government policies on the viability of local doctor's surgeries, especially in rural areas.

I attended a meeting of the Gosforth and Ennerdale neighbourhood forum this evening at which two of the local councillors present reported on a meeting they had had earlier in the day with one of the senior partners of the practice which runs Seascale Health Centre.

The government is proposing that GP practices will no longer be allowed to run pharmacies where there is an independent pharmacy within a mile of the surgery. This could be very bad news for the Seascale health centre, as the income from the pharmacy compared to GP salaries translates as 1.5 FTE (Full Time Equivalent.) In other words Seascale may lose the equivalent of one and a half doctors if the government proceeds with this policy.

Overall some 17 GP practices in Cumbria are affected including two or three in Copeland: apart from the impact on Seascale health centre, this evening's meeting was told that the proposed pharmacy policy if adopted would present a serious threat to the viability of Bootle surgery. There is also a practice affected in Whitehaven.

This would be bad enough if the pharmacy policy was the only thing the government is doing which is likely to harm rural GP practices, but in fact it is one prong of a three-pronged assault. The second is the proposal to promote large "Polyclinics" with up to 20 doctors, to resource which it is likely that some smaller practices are closed. And the third is that Alan Johnson has announced he intends to abolish the minimum guaranteed practice income scheme which keeps many small surgeries open.

Taken together these policies represent a serious threat to our rural GP services, which following on from the loss of other rural amenities such as Post Offices is bad news for rural communities and also for urban communities in sparsely populated areas such as Cumbria.


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