Tuesday, 03 August 2021

Surgeries want Townlands move

DOCTORS in Henley have approached health chiefs about moving the Bell and Hart surgeries to the

DOCTORS in Henley have approached health chiefs about moving the Bell and Hart surgeries to the new Townlands Hospital.

They say it could be the “right choice” for patients and would provide a solution to the second floor of the hospital, which is currently set to be empty after Sue Ryder pulled out of a deal in December to relocate its hospice from Nettlebed.

The GPs have approached NHS Property Services, which owns the hospital site, but have yet to receive a reply. Dr Philip Unwin, senior partner at The Hart Surgery, said: “It might well be the right choice for patients.

“All the medical services would be on one site so medically speaking it’s very exciting and it could be something that has a lot of legs. Patients would be able to walk downstairs for an X—ray or physiotherapy or we could take them down to get a second opinion. There are lots of advantages.

“We would have all the staff on one site and the surgeries would be working together to provide a more comprehensive service with less duplication.”

Dr Unwin says the move would require the two surgeries to merge but he says they would support the move. He said: “It could benefit patients and I don’t think it would be a bad idea.

“The surgeries would almost certainly have to join which in itself would be a big move with lots of hurdles to overcome. Over the years we have thought about joining up many times and at the moment there’s a lot of good will in the surgeries to do that.

“There are drawbacks: the top floor would need to be converted into a surgery. It isn’t at the moment and can’t be yet because that would be against the current contract with the builders. So there are a lot of things that need to be overcome.”

NHS Property Services would want any service which moved into the second floor to pay the rental costs of £250,000, according to Dr Unwin.

He said: “We have discussed it and we have approached them and said we were surprised they haven’t asked us. It might be a good idea from a practical point of view but they are not talking to us.

“There are no fixed plans at all for the top floor. Dr Andrew Burnett (Sonning Common GP and member of the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group) told me they would consider any option but I don’t know if we can make it work.

“If the conditions are right and the figures add up we would definitely look at the logistics of moving over but all of this takes a lot of time and effort to work into a proper plan.”

If the move went ahead, it’s likely the existing surgeries would be sold or demolished to make way for car parking, Dr Unwin said.

If they are sold, the buildings would also require planning consent to be used for anything other than medical care.

Dr Unwin also said any move would be dependent on approval from patients and residents.

He said: “That’s a major concern and something that would make a difference to discussions if it wasn’t the right thing to do.

“I don’t think the patients would mind but it could cause a few ripples.

“The surgeries are owned by the doctors and we have all invested in them over the years so they owe us quite a lot. We also own the car park and we can’t just give that up.

“We would look at the logistics of moving and then decide what to do with the surgeries.”

Dr Unwin stressed that until NHS Property Services is willing to discuss it with them, the potential move could be “dead in the water.”

He said: “We can’t see the figures adding up. That’s fine, we are here to try and help, we want the best for Townlands and Henley. If that meant moving there then we would seriously consider it but it can’t be at any cost.

“We haven’t really thought about it enough because we have been given no encouragement. At the moment it’s dead in the water and the ball is very much in their court.”

Henley MP John Howell said the move “makes a lot of sense” but would have to be looked at in detail by GPs.

He said: “I’m happy that they’re looking at the issue and engaging with the commissioning group about it.

“The fact is I’m not a part of the commissioning group so I’m not included in their discussions.

“I think the move makes a lot of sense but it’s one the GPs need to be happy with it.”

Town councillor Ian Reissmann, who chairs the Townlands Steering Group, said: “We are very keen that the floor is used to provide health services and what better than GPs?

“If it went ahead we would have to check and see what the proposals were but the first priority is to get the best health services for the community.

“If that helps serve the problem of the vacant floor and the financial viability of the Townlands site then it sounds like it’s well worth exploring.”

The commissioning group was asked directly about the proposal. A spokeswoman for the group said: “NHS property services and the commissioning group are still in discussion about the future use of the second floor.

“No decisions have been made, although a number of options are currently being investigated.”

A spokesman for NHS property services said the group had “nothing to add” to the commissioning group’s statement.

Retired GP Peter Ashby, who worked at the Hart Surgery and is now a member of the steering group, says any poten tial move could scupper a campaign to have 18 beds installed at the hospital.

Dr Ashby said: “The surgeries are already almost on the site so my concern is that it would be a good excuse for the commissioning group not to put the beds in.

“Anything that would cause the beds to be lost is a concern. It would be a shame to take up hospital space on services which are already on the site.”

The potential move was due to be discussed by the steering group’s sub group at a meeting on Wednesday (22).

Mary Chambers, of the Hart Surgery patient panel, said: “We do need that hospital filling up with NHS services. Townlands is a stone’s throw away from the surgeries so it wouldn’t inconvenience anyone.

“It wouldn’t be good if the move was used as an excuse for the lack of beds because we don’t want any excuse for not having proper bed care. If that’s not the case then I would be happy with it.”

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