Thousands of Brighton patients were offered a glimmer of hope in their battle to remain registered with a doctors’ surgery near where they live.
The chief executive of Brighton and Hove City Council Penny Thompson intervened in a debate and offered to bring together the relevant organisations to resolve the problem.
Their situation was raised by the Labour parliamentary candidate for Brighton Kemptown Nancy Platts at the Brighton and Hove Health and Wellbeing Board yesterday (Tuesday 9 December).
And the board received a report at the request of East Brighton councillor and Labour group leader Warren Morgan who represents many of the patients affected.
The patients are currently registered with Dr Malcolm Stalker and Dr Robert Mockett at their Eaton Place surgery in Kemp Town.
The pair wrote to NHS England earlier this year to give notice that they intended to retire on Saturday 28 February next year.
They had planned to sell the premises for housing but the Health and Wellbeing Board was told that they would now allow the premises to remain in use as a doctors’ surgery.
The report to board members said: “Unfortunately there is no longer sufficient time to enable NHS England to hold a procurement process to appoint a new provider to deliver services to patients from the existing premises from 1 March 2015 once the current contract with Dr Mockett and Dr Stalker ends.
“We will, however, actively consider proposals from any other local practice if they wish to open a branch surgery with the current Eaton Place Surgery premises at a future date and this is agreeable to the owners of the site.”
Two to have been mooted are the Brighton and Health and Wellbeing Centre, in Western Road, Brighton, and the Benfield Valley Healthcare Hub, which has surgeries in Hangleton and Portslade.
It is possible that family doctors based closer to Eaton Place will be regarded as better placed to run the practice as a branch surgery.
Ms Platts said after the Health and Wellbeing Board meeting at Hove Town Hall that members “seemed confused about what powers they actually had”.
She said that they struggled to give clear answers to her questions and those asked by patients from the surgery.
They wanted to know whether a new GP practice could be provided or whether locums could be used as an interim solution at the current address.
And they asked what would happen to those patients who had not found a new GP by the time the Eaton Place practice closed.
Ms Platts said: “No one seems to be taking responsibility and I am concerned that NHS England is not approaching this with a sense of urgency or exploring all available options.
“People need and deserve a local GP and it will be a false economy not to replace this surgery.
“There is a significant risk that people will go to A&E at the hospital rather than travel halfway across town and our A&E should not have to cope with that demand.”
The Accident and Emergency (A&E) Department at the nearby Royal Sussex County Hospital is already overstretched.
Some patients have already switched to another GP but more than 4,000 patients are still looking for a local doctor.
Ms Platts said that for everyone still registered at Eaton Place to change GP would mean nearby practices taking on an average of 350 patients each, increasing waiting times for all patients.
Many people are angry about the distances that they would be expected to travel, she said, adding that for some this would involve more than one bus journey when they were ill. Others have been told by practices to wait until January or February until they can register.
Ms Platts said: “It was a huge relief when after much talk about strategies and reports, chief executive Penny Thompson stepped in and offered to convene an urgent cross-agency meeting.
“I have written to her to ask about next steps and a timeline for action.
“Patients need to know this side of Christmas whether a temporary GP service can be set up in this area while a long-term plan is developed.”
The building work under way at Brighton Marina is expected to include a new GP surgery for the thousands of extra people expected to live there. But this is unlikely to open until later next year at the earliest.
Six weeks ago Simon Kirby, the Conservative MP for Brighton Kemptown, wrote to the interim director of NHS England in Surrey and Sussex Sarah Creamer about the issue.
She said that NHS England was exploring all options.
A petition to Replace Eaton Place can be found at http://www.nancyplatts.org.uk/replaceeatonplacegp.