'Appalled' patients and staff in organised protest against impending GP closure
Patients and staff at a Staffordshire GP surgery facing closure have spoken of their anger at what they say is a lack of consultation.
A group of patients, local councillors and members of the Patient Participation Group (PPG) for Burntwood Health and Wellbeing Centre GP Practice staged a peaceful demonstration outside the surgery on Saturday in protest at the planned closure in early 2024.
The protest is the latest step by the PPG to raise awareness of the planned closure, which it said would negatively affect 5,000 patients through being allocated or having to find another GP surgery in the area until a new surgery is ready in 2025.
The PPG also said that there had been no public consultation about closing the service from Staffordshire and Stoke-on Trent Integrated Care Board (ICB), with chair David Raybould saying the ICB had only agreed now to consult after being put under pressure.
He said: "The state of play at the moment is that the ICB are coming to a meeting with the patient group next Thursday, which will also be attended by local councillors.
"What we hope to achieve from today is for the ICB to rescind their decision to close the practice and look at alternative ways of delivering the service until the new Burntwood North practice is built, which they are proposing will be by 2025.
"The feedback we've had from people about the closure is that they are appalled for two reasons, one being that this place should continue delivering a service to patients until there is an alternative and two, the lack of consultation.
"People are very angry about what feels like another 'we know what's best for you' situation."
More than 20 people were present at the protest, carrying banners which had messages such as "Save our surgery" and "Burntwood needs more access to GP surgeries, not less".
One of the protestors was Kathy Coe, who lives locally. The 70-year-old said people felt cheated about the way the closure had been announced.
She said: "I think this protest is really important as the NHS is under such strain, yet we're closing down a surgery that is providing a really important service for people.
"I was quite shocked when I found out as the contract wasn't up and it seems unfair and everyone feels that they've been cheated.
"I hope today will bring it to the attention of more people and let them know that we are not just going to accept this and move on as it's not a good decision and it's not going to work."
The GP at the surgery, Dr Manu Agrawal, spoke about the lack of consultation before the decision was made in January and how that has escalated.
He said: "We were just sent an email saying that it was the decision of the ICB to close the surgery and that they would liaise with us in the future and I don't think they even expected us to tell our patients about this.
"We did discuss it with our patients and the ICB sent them a letter about the planned dispersal, so we gave them a proposal about continuing as a provider with no extra cost to the ICB and even offered to do Saturdays for free, which we are doing now anyway.
"It would have given the tax payer more than 20 per cent extra value, but the ICB has ignored our proposal and not engaged with us at all, which is disappointing to me."
Among the councillors taking part in the protest were Chasetown councillor Darren Ennis, who said it was amazing to see so many people come out to support their surgery.
He said: "To see the level of support for the surgery is amazing and so many people have turned up and I can understand why.
"At the moment, the closure of the surgery will not only affect the people here, but put undue pressure on every other surgery in Burntwood, affected not just the 5,000 people here, but more than 28,000 who will end up with worse services because of it.
"I think the initial reaction of the ICB to have no consultation and to not talk to the PPG was horrible and didn't make it work how it could have, so the meeting is a good step, although there is the concern that it might just be a box ticking exercise.
"It could also be that they are coming to talk to us to find a better solution and I hope it's the latter."