Tuesday, 03 August 2021

GPs want empty hospital floor

HENLEY’S two GP surgeries are favourite to take over the empty floor at the new Townlands

HENLEY’S two GP surgeries are favourite to take over the empty floor at the new Townlands Hospital.

The Bell and Hart surgeries have begun negotiations with health chiefs, who say the move would the “right choice” for patients.

However, a deal is unlikely to be agreed before the hospital opens in early December not least because it would depend on the doctors agreeing to sell their current premises in York Road.

The second floor of the building is empty after Sue Ryder pulled out of a deal to relocate its hospice from Nettlebed in December.

Campaigners called for it to be used to recreate the 14-bed Peppard ward at the current hospital.

Instead, the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group decided on a new model of care with a rapid access care unit to enable more patients to stay at home and eight beds at the neighbouring care home that is due to open next summer.

NHS Property Services, a government company that owns the Townlands site and is thought to want to charge £250,000 a year in rent on the second floor, has confirmed it is negotiating with prospective tenants.

The commissioning group says relocating the surgeries is its “preferred solution” and is supported by Henley MP John Howell and town councillor Ian Reissmann, who chairs the Townlands Steering Group.

Dr Philip Unwin, senior partner at the Hart Surgery, said: “We are working on it and will continue to do so because it makes sense medically. We are exploring the idea but we aren’t talking money or conditions yet.

“These things don’t move quickly. If the hospital opens with an empty floor then that’s what we will have and I imagine that’s what will happen.

“It might be empty for a while but that’s okay, it’s important to get people in there for the right price.”

Dr Unwin warned that the move could take “a very long time” and might not happen at all. He said: “In some ways it’s not ideal for us because we’ve got to do something with our buildings — they have intrinsic value.

“The doctors have invested a lot in the properties and we are still looking at who would want to work here.”

A report presented to the commissioning group’s board said: “The preferred solution is to relocate the Hart Surgery and Bell Surgery general practices to the second floor of the new premises following expressions of interest being received from both.

“The commissioning group and NHS Property Services are working closely with the practices to consider the logistical and financial implications of the move and are seeking to expedite this work in order to assess whether or not this is a viable option and, if so, to secure occupation of the second floor as soon as possible.”

An NHS Property Services spokesman said: “Negotiations are progressing with prospective tenants of the top floor of the building. It’s too early to talk about time- scales.”

Mr Howell said the move made sense but would have to be looked at in detail. Cllr Reissmann said: “We are very keen that the floor is used to provide health services and what better than GPs?

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

Henley Mayor Lorraine Hillier said: “If this helps keep the hospital open by filling the empty floor then it seems like the sensible solution. The surgeries are not very far away anyway.

“In one way it’s a shame because people are used to them where they are. I was talking to a lady recently who said she doesn’t want them to move because it’s familiar.”

When Sue Ryder pulled out of a deal to move to a new 12-bed facility at the hospital, chief executive Heidi Travis said the decision was based on several factors, including concern that it would break up the various hospice servicees, and a lack of car parking space.

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