“Plans to completely redevelop Sidmouth’s Blackmore Health Centre – adding new flats and a pharmacy – have left GPs fearing for its future.
Sid Valley Practice partners have been denied the chance to buy their town-centre building – taken over in 2013 – and say owner NHS Property Services (NHSPS) seems to be on a ‘commercial drive’ to squeeze profit from the site.
GPs say they are struggling to work in the rapidly deteriorating premises – branded ‘non-fit for purpose’ by the Care Quality Commission in July 2015. They have spoken of concerns that current proposals do not future-proof the site or leave any room to expand as the population grows.
The GPs remain ‘absolutely committed’ to retaining the town-centre surgery and are appealing for support from the community.
Doctors say the company responsible for managing NHS property has hiked up charges to the practice by around 50 per cent, despite so far failing to make the six-figure investment needed in the building.
An NHSPS spokesperson said the company is ‘committed to delivering improvements’ and recognises the concerns raised by GPs.
Dr Joe Stych, one of the practice partners, told the Herald: “The plan at the moment includes 10 residential flats on the squashed site. The implications of this will be quite large.
“A concern is that if the site is developed into flats and sold off, this facility would lose future expansion space available to the NHS as the town grows. Practice partners have been desperately trying to buy the building to protect it long-term, but have been turned down. Since NHSPS took ownership, costs passed on to the NHS and GPs for running this facility have increased to a level it may not be financially viable for the surgery to continue to practice there long-term.
“One of the big concerns for us is future-proofing the practice. The plans that are there do not future-proof the practice for the town in the short-term, let alone the long-term. “
The practice partners personally shouldered a £2.1million loan to build the new Beacon Medical Centre off Stowford Rise – and say they are ‘absolutely committed’ to retaining a town-centre surgery.
Dr Stych added that doctors do not feel their concerns are being listened to, so they have resorted to appealing for public support in efforts to safeguard the future of the Blackmore Drive surgery.
Chairman of the Sid Valley Patient Participation Group, Di Fuller, called for the community to get behind a campaign to save their surgery. She says the NHSPS is making it increasingly difficult for the practice, adding: “From a patient perspective, we already know there is a lot of anxiety in the town about the security of the Blackmore Surgery. Our anxiety is that, once it’s redeveloped, it will be great, but the rent they will demand will possibly make it unsustainable.
“At the moment, I understand that they are not planning to make the accommodation large enough for expansion, which is really cause for concern. They are trying to maximise profit and income from the property.
“We are a patient group that works hard to bridge the gap on behalf of patients, but we need the community to get behind us on this.”
East Devon’s MP Hugo Swire agreed it would it be ‘wholly inappropriate’ for people in Sidmouth to experience a reduction in healthcare provision. He said he will seek a meeting with relevant parties to discuss the future of Blackmore Health Centre.
A spokesperson for NHSPS said: “We are committed to delivering improvements to this surgery, including draft proposals for a scheme which could provide homes and a brand new surgery on the site.
“The GPs raised concerns about the car parking and we have revised the proposal, but discussions are continuing on this, or the option to refurbish.
“We clearly want to ensure the best possible outcome for the practice and local patients. We are listening to the GPs and fully recognise their concerns. We will continue to work with them to address these, including queries about their billing.”