Stop east London GP surgery closures!

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GPs and patients are fighting the closure of GP surgeries
GPs and patients are fighting the closure of GP surgeries

EAST London GPs, patients and supporters on Thursday staged a protest in Limehouse against cuts in funding that threaten to bankrupt around a dozen surgeries in Tower Hamlets.

Maggie Falshaw, chair of Save Our Surgeries, told News Line: ‘We’re here because the government has changed the way it funds general practice.

‘As a result, about ten or twelve practices in Tower Hamlets will no longer be financially viable. We’re demonstrating to demand the current cuts to general practice are halted, and that there is a fairer funding formula that takes deprivation into account.

‘We are protesting in the shadow of Canary Wharf towers because our money has bailed out the banks when it should be spent on health, education and social services.’

Limehouse Practice GP Noreen Bhatti, added: ‘I’m here because the time has come to put more money into the system.

‘When you are down to counting the last staple, it is time the government realised we need more money.

‘The attack on our surgeries in particular is an attack on poor people.’

Farouk Mia, with a group from the Bangladeshi Parent Adviser Service, told News Line: ‘We’re here to support the GPs.

‘We are also protesting against cuts to the community learning disability service. It’s affecting parents with disabled children, making their lives difficult.

‘We are all parents with a disabled child. The government is doing damage and not giving us any answers.

‘All the government says is cut the service. The Mayor says Cameron doesn’t supply London with funding so how are we going to give it?’

Practice nurse at Limehouse GP surgery June Gray told a short rally: ‘We’ve taken pay cuts as much as we can. We’re now on the breadline.

‘It’s not just our surgery, there are ten others in Tower Hamlets who face bankruptcy. We all work together to share good practice, so if one of us goes, the possibility is others in the network will fall as well.

‘The government are trying to change things without really understanding what happens at grass roots. The worrying thing is there are more cuts to come in the NHS, that this is not the end but just the beginning.’

Elliot Singer, a GP from Chingford, said: ‘Our patients need us. Our patients need a GP service. It needs to be appropriately resourced to enable us to provide the care that patients need and want.’

Tower Hamlets GP Jackie Appleby spoke out about Barts Health NHS Trust being put into special measures.

She told the rally: ‘The problem with Barts Health is it is haemorrhaging money into the PFI.

‘The staff there work with compassion and care. The CQC (Care Quality Commission) report said how compassionate staff are at Whipps Cross.’

She told News Line: ‘Nothing will be answered by putting Barts in special measures if they don’t appreciate the fact that privatisation of the NHS, combined with “efficiency savings” means the NHS is grossly underfunded and staff have had cuts in pay and cuts in their numbers.’

Consultant Eric Watts, chair of Doctors for the NHS campaign group, told News Line: ‘We’re here to support our GP colleagues whose surgeries are threatened by government cuts.

‘The government wishes to reduce public spending but we need adequate funding to preserve high quality health services.

‘We are concerned that the NHS is under its biggest threat ever because the coaltion’s policies, contained in the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, are to fragment and privatise the NHS.’

The Save Our Surgeries campaign recently unveiled research showing that, in Tower Hamlets alone, general practice stands to lose an eye-watering £20.4m over the next seven years.

The cuts and changes are hitting poor areas much harder – despite the fact that patients on low incomes have more complex health needs, are sick for longer and die younger than better-off patients elsewhere.

Local GPs say many practices are facing closure, with the rest looking at cutting back staff and services to make up the shortfall.

GP Naureen Bhatti from the Limehouse Practice said before Thursday’s protest: ‘Our patients are telling us they don’t want to lose the GPs they trust.

‘They don’t want further to travel. They don’t want to wait longer for an appointment and they don’t want to lose services. We’re urging NHS England to stop these cuts, so that surgeries like ours don’t have to close.

‘We want them to work with us to find a fair funding formula that takes the needs of areas like east London properly into account.’

The headline results of Save Our Surgeries research are that:

• GP surgeries in Tower Hamlets are on course to lose £20.4m over the next seven years.

• Surgeries with a good reputation locally – including the Limehouse Practice in Gill Street, E14 – will be forced to close.

• Every surgery in Tower Hamlets will be forced to make cuts to staff and patient services.

This is particularly shocking because:

• 70% of Tower Hamlets residents are in the most deprived national quintile.

• Tower Hamlets residents visit their GPs more often, with more complex problems.

• People aged 50-69 from poorer areas consult their GP twice as often as people from richer areas.

• 34% of the local population has language support needs when accessing healthcare.

• Tower Hamlets’ primary care workload is around a third higher than current funding formulas allow for.

• Not tackling this problem will inevitably cut the number of GP appointments, send more people to local A&Es and harm patient care.