Lancashire NHS leaders are being urged to listen to the voice of a Chorley village and guarantee the future of its long-serving GP.
Dr. Ann Robinson has operated Withnell Health Centre for 11 years – and there was uproar amongst patients early last year when her place there was thrown into doubt by a decision to hand the contract for the facility to a conglomerate that runs more than 40 surgeries across the North West.
The move saw the Lancashire and South Integrated Care Board (ICB) deluged with written objections from 1,500 people registered at the Railway Road practice – resulting in the NHS body opting to start the process from scratch after acknowledging that patients had not been properly consulted on the plans.
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The ICB’s primary care commissioning committee will on Thursday (January 18) consider a recommendation to launch a new competitive tender procedure – of the kind through which Dr. Robinson lost out 12 months ago – whereby prospective operators of the surgery will be pitched against each other.
However, campaigners are calling on the organisation instead to make use of a recent rule change which they say enables the ICB to award the up to 15-year contract directly to Dr. Robinson – with no competition.
In a letter to Kevin Lavery, the ICB’s chief executive, Save Withnell Health Centre group member Louise France says that to choose any other option would amount to “ignoring the wishes” of the practice’s 5,500 patients.
“You have had over 2,000 responses to the patient surveys the ICB ran this year and Withnell Health Centre currently scores 97 per cent satisfaction on the most recent [nationwide] GP patient survey.
“You also, I am sure, are aware of the large patient protests that were held in order to keep Dr. Robinson running our health centre,” Ms France adds.
However, papers to be presented at Thursday’s committee meeting state that of the three procedural routes that permit a direct award to be made to a particular provider, the most relevant one – that the existing operator is satisfying the current contract and will likely satisfy the new one – does not apply in the case of Withnell Health Centre. That is because the new contract would be worth at least £500,000 more over its lifetime than the present deal.
Craig Harris, the ICB’s chief operating officer, said that the organisation “would like to reassure our local population that securing high-quality services for them remains
“Over the past 10 months, we have been working closely with members of the community to keep them updated on the situation. The ICB has worked in partnership with a patient steering group who have contributed to developing an engagement process and [have] shared views to support a new approach to be used for all future primary care procurement in Lancashire and South Cumbria.
“The ICB has appreciated the support and close partnership working with patients of the practice.
“We are committed to securing the best outcome for Withnell Health Centre and its patients within the legal guidance we are required and permitted to consider. It is important to note that the ICB has not made any decisions yet, this will be a committee discussion in public and we need to follow due process for equity and fairness.
“Until this decision has been made, we aren’t able to comment any further,” Mr. Harris added.
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