GP Provision: Pilsley

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:46 pm on 10th February 2020.

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Photo of Mark Fletcher Mark Fletcher Conservative, Bolsover 8:46 pm, 10th February 2020

It is a delight to receive an intervention from the hon. Gentleman. As I understand it, he is slightly notorious for doing so. He strayed slightly from what I wish to speak about this evening, but I thank him for his support, as do the people of Pilsley.

As I was saying, on the face of it, this is about difficulties in recruiting and retaining GPs. That is why this Government have committed to recruiting 6,000 more GPs and 26,000 primary care staff other than GPs. We know that there is a particular issue with meeting increased demand at GP surgeries, and we are addressing that challenge head-on with a three-pronged approach: recruiting more GPs; recruiting other staff such as nurses and pharmacists, who can often deal with more routine appointments; and finding new ways of working, such as telephone appointments. That is why I wrote to the Secretary of State asking for a meeting with myself and Staffa Health, to discuss alternative ways of working—a meeting that I believe he is happy to arrange.

But if I were being a cynical man, I would suggest that the top line about GP recruitment is a cover for other reasons why Staffa Health wishes to go ahead with this closure. In the frequently asked questions section of the consultation letter, there was a section headed,

“How would it help Staffa Health by closing the Pilsley surgery?”

Five reasons are given. The first is, as previously covered:

“Enabling us to review and improve access to GP appointments without having to spread staff thinly over four sites”.

The second is:

“Allowing us to redesign the way we provide some aspects of the service. We plan to improve access to same day urgent care, telephone and online consultations”.

I am at a bit of a loss as to why the closure of a surgery is required for that to happen. The third reason stated is:

“Reducing some of the activities that are duplicated across multiple sites, providing greater efficiency”.

I suspect that that might be the most important reason. I think that the finances of the closure may be a considerable factor in this proposal, and if I am right, I wish that Staffa Health would come out and say so, rather than hiding behind other factors.

The fourth and fifth reasons given are:

“Giving the Practice a greater ability to support doctors, nurses and pharmacists in training by supervising them on fewer sites” and

“Making the practice a more attractive place to work due to a more supportive, less stressful and less isolated working environment”.

What both those points skirt over is the impact that this will have on residents in Pilsley, who are unanimously against this closure. Of course it is important to think about the morale of staff and the quality of their training, but if doing so results in the plummeting morale of patients, is that a good decision? There are serious concerns about the impact the closure will have on the residents of Pilsley, especially those who cannot drive or suffer mobility issues. The village has a higher proportion of elderly residents than most of my constituency, and there are three major issues that I want to raise today.

The first is public transport. The consultation document points out that the other Staffa Health surgeries are only a couple of miles away from the Pilsley surgery, and that there are two public transport routes to them. My inbox and postbags are full of residents’ communications presenting a very different picture. As one email from a Pilsley resident stated:

“Our village has lost one bus service and what is left is erratic and unreliable. I am 72 and currently drive but wonder what will happen in the years to come.”

Do we really want our elderly patients who cannot drive waiting in the freezing cold in bus shelters for a once-an-hour service that is far from reliable? Will this improve their health, or would we prefer them to shell out for a return taxi that will cost about £20, or are we to rely on a commitment to home visits that will surely put considerably more strain on the workforce?

The consultation document says that the practice

“recognises that not all patients would be able or willing to travel to one of the other surgeries. Any patients who may choose not to remain registered with Staffa Health would be fully supported and offered advice on how to re-register with a different Practice.”

However, this is far from adequate. It knows that it is the only surgery available, and those wanting a local doctor will have no alternative. That was the one part of the consultation I was somewhat offended by.

The second issue is the new housing being built in the village. Because it is a fantastic place to live, Pilsley is popular for new housing developments. The Pilsley surgery has 2,800 patients registered at the practice, which has increased by 500 patients since 2017 due to new housing in the area. Other developments, such as the Rockliffe housing development on Green Lane and a site on Gladstone Lane, have been identified for more housing. It is perverse to build new housing in a village while at the same time losing vital infrastructure. We need to have a much more joined-up approach between the local authority, the CCG and Staffa Health, and I suggest that some of the developers building in Pilsley should be contributing financially to local services such as the GP practice.

The new houses will create more demand, and we are going to end up in a position in a few years’ time where we will need to reopen this practice, so let us just cut out this closure. I was particularly amused to read that, because of concerns over parking at one of the other surgeries—in Tibshelf—the plan was to close the Pilsley surgery to patients, who will then have to travel to Tibshelf, but to move administrative staff from Tibshelf to the now closed Pilsley service so as to free up car parking space in the short term at Pilsley. It brought to mind the episode of “Yes Minister” when Jim Hacker visits a new hospital that has no patients, and Sir Humphrey proudly tells him that it is one of the best performing hospitals in the country on many measures.

The third concern I want to raise is the consultation, a lot of which was done online. Not all residents are online and not all residents in Pilsley feel they have been kept up to date on the process. Two brilliant ladies, Sheila Baldwin and Wendy Hardwick, took matters into their own hands and organised a petition against the closure, collecting 600 signatures in three weeks. I applaud their efforts, particularly as Sheila is not online, yet she has galvanised Pilsley into action. She is one of a number of people who have tried calling the surgery in recent weeks only to discover that the options system for the practice automatically transfers them to the test results option. This has added to the confusion and Chinese whispers that are inevitable in a situation of high anxiety.

I brought the consultation up in business questions a few weeks ago, and I know that the CCG is of the opinion that the consultation process for the proposed closure was satisfactory, but I question whether it has explored more than the papers put in front of it. It is clear from speaking to residents in Pilsley that they feel very unsure about who is making decisions, when they are coming, and what impact they will have. We are far too reliant on websites for this sort of thing, and it annoys me that those of us who are tech-savvy gloss over the discrimination this presents to those who are not computer-literate. On behalf of all residents in Pilsley, I thank Sheila and Wendy for all that they have done.

I appreciate that the Government do not have control over this decision: responsibility lies with the CCG. Reportedly—this has not been confirmed to me in writing—a decision will be made at its next meeting on 26 February, although no time or location has yet been provided to me. Equally, I appreciate that a lot of this happened before I was elected. I also wish to state again that I have no ill will towards those who work for Staffa Health, who I am sure wish to do their very best to make their patients’ lives better; I disagree with them on this matter, but I do not question their passion for what they do. But it seems to me that the rationale for this proposed closure is short-sighted. It will adversely impact many vulnerable and elderly patients. It is deeply unpopular, and the best approach would be for us to find a way of keeping this surgery, such a vital part of the Pilsley community, open.

I also fear that the closure of the surgery could see a reduction in services or a potential closure of the local pharmacy, creating a real health blackspot in one of the finest parts of Derbyshire. I know the Minister is particularly passionate about pharmacies, and she knows how vital to communities these local businesses are.

I hope Staffa Health and the Derbyshire CCG will pause this proposal, meet me and the Secretary of State to discuss their issues and reassess what can be done. If any confirmation of the importance of this issue were needed, I might add that when I spoke to Sheila earlier today she told me that a last minute notice had gone out in the community because ITV’s “Calendar”—I am sure you are a big fan, Madam Deputy Speaker—was filming in the local area and wanted people to come out; at incredibly short notice 30 people made themselves available. This is a vitally important issue for the residents of Pilsley and I look forward to the Minister’s response.