By Andy Tong firstname.lastname@example.org
THOUSANDS of elderly and disabled people and families with young children face anxiety about seeing a doctor as GPs’ surgeries are shut across the borough.
East Peckham’s facility closes at the end of next month and the future of West Malling Group Practice – which has 20,300 people on its books – is in doubt.
Tonbridge is already facing the loss of two sites at Higham Lane and Pembury Road, which are deemed to be no longer fit for purpose.
Clients will have to register at a new central surgery to be built on River Lawn.
There was some good news last week when the West Malling practice said there would be no change to its service this year. But it still plans to move the majority of its provision to its Kings Hill site, which it described as ‘half-empty’.
There has been a surgery in West Malling High Street for more than 70 years.
The move has caused concerns about less mobile members of the community, especially those who do not own cars.
‘There has been no community involvement. We are the people they are supposed to be serving’
Trudy Dean, Chairman of the town’s parish council, said relocating to Kings Hill ‘would be very difficult for elderly people, people with mobility problems and families with very young children’.
West Malling Group Practice announced in July last year that the site had been put on the market, and on January 14 it announced: “We do have several interested buyers, and three we count as serious at this time.”
Ms Dean said: “They were supposed to keep the community involved but we understand that that group has not really met since last summer.
“So there has been no involvement of the community. That’s disappointing because we are their clients, the people they are supposed to be serving.”
Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge & Malling, welcomed the stay of execution last week but added: “We still have a long battle on our hands and I’ll be working with the practice and the NHS to establish what the healthcare looks like in West Malling in the long term.”
West Malling Group Practice says its move is based on the NHS ‘Super Practice plan’, which aims to ‘move all Primary Care services into commercially viable buildings in a move away from the cottage industry it once was and the residential buildings it started in’.
It added: “The NHS plan [is] to look at practices to have services for around 30,000 patients in one location. Many practices across West Kent are looking at this and creating collaborations.”
The group maintains that the surgery on 116 High Street ‘is a residential building and although developed over the years is not suitable as a commercial building in modern-day world’.
Similar concerns have led to the West Kent Clinical Commissioning Group’s decision to shut the Woodlands surgery in East Peckham next month.
It will close its doors on more than 1,500 registered patients on March 31. They will now have to rely on patchy public transport in a rural area to travel to Woodlands’ other site in Paddock Wood.
The Parish Council pledged to put in £100,000 towards the estimated £250,000 of renovations required to make the surgery fit for purpose.
Woodlands has admitted that it did not obtain quotes for the required work because ‘NHS England have told us we are highly unlikely to receive funding. Even if we did, they would only fund 66 per cent of the cost’.
‘I’m disappointed Woodlands have not opted to bring forward any funds’
Mr Tugendhat has written to the company asking for details about what work was needed to ‘bring the building up to NHS standards’, and how much money the company would have been prepared to put forward to complete the project.
He has also called upon the firm to invest in a transport link between East Peckham and the Woodlands surgery in Paddock Wood because the current bus service is ‘not reliable and there are seemingly endless changes to the route’.
Mr Tugendhat said: “I’m disappointed that Woodlands Health Centre have not opted to bring forward any funds to enable it to retain a presence in East Peckham, and the challenge they now have is to ensure that their existing facility in Paddock Wood is accessible to all in light of the changes to bus services in the village since their plans were first announced in 2015.”