Plans for three ‘polyclinics’ in Birmingham have divided the city’s health watchdog, which had failed to approve proposals tabled by the city’s primary care trusts.
Trust bosses have a mandate to invest £250 million into six new surgeries as well as three GP-led health centres, but councillors could not reach a conclusion after debating the issue for more than two hours.
Birmingham East and North PCT wants to set up GP surgeries in Hodge Hill, Kingstanding and Washwood Heath, with a health centre in Erdington or Tyburn, while South Birmingham PCT have plans for a polyclinic in Selly Oak, and a surgery elsewhere in the patch.
Both trusts are in the throes of public consultation, which end next month, while Heart of Birmingham has consulted people over plans for practises in Sparkbrook and Lozells.
Coun Paulette Hamilton (Lab, Handsworth Wood) made an impassioned argument to the council’s health scrutiny committee for why residents in deprived wards, such as hers, deserved better access to primary care services.
“I can’t believe what I’m hearing here today. I cannot understand why this conversation has gone this way because the public are fed up. I’ve been to four of these consultation meetings. People are fed up of being treated like second class citizens,” she said.
“I love my GP but I can’t get to see him. I’m a busy woman, and we all have busy lives, so if I could I would go somewhere I know I’ll be seen. I don’t see these walk-in centres as a replacement for GP surgeries, patients need choice so I don’t understand why this committee is so adamant we don’t need them.
“Change has to come. It has to because in Handsworth, Handsworth Wood we are desperate.”
Charles Zuckerman, of the Local Medical Committee, made it clear city GPs were not happy with the proposals, part of a national shake-up of GP services.
He said: “The £250 million being invested in these new practises is a complete waste of money, particularly in South Birmingham where one practice in Selly Oak has already invested £2 million in improving patient facilities, so the proposed GP-led centre for Selly Oak will completely torpedo that investment.
“A surgery doesn’t need to lose many patients to become destablilised. For a 6,000 patient practice, it will only take a loss of 300 patients to cause a significant drop in revenue”
Eamonn Kelly, of strategic health authority NHS West Midlands, pointed out: “What I haven’t heard is anyone saying we need to work with the PCTs to make the most of this policy, that must be a primary consideration in any conclusion that you come to.”
But Coun Deirdre Alden (Con, Edgbaston), who chairs the committee, voiced fears that existing surgeries and pharmacies could close as a result of patients moving to the new practices and walk-in centres, due to open from April 2009.
“It’s fair to say that we’re split down party lines, there is a significant difference of opinion which must be recorded, but I am sure all committee members want to see an improvement to primary care services,” she said.
“I think while some are passionate to see change brought about in areas that are struggling, we remain concerned that this could have damaging effects on GP services in the long term.
“Personally I do feel this has been rushed through and I do think this will have a detrimental effect on GP services across the city.”
The issue will be discussed again at the next health scrutiny committee meeting.