GP Provision: Pilsley

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:02 pm on 10th February 2020.

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Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 9:02 pm, 10th February 2020

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mark Fletcher on securing this debate about GP provision in Pilsley. We know that general practice is the lifeblood of the NHS, and we understand the essential role that local practices play in their community, and this is particularly the case in rural areas such as Pilsley.

Before I address the specific issue of the proposed closure of the Pilsley branch surgery, I would like to mention the local work that is being done in Derbyshire that partly explains some of the things that my hon. Friend was talking about. First, Derby and Derbyshire CCG has been active in working with NHS England to expand the local workforce, and I am very pleased that three new GPs have been recruited in Derbyshire, one of them indeed by Staffa Healthcare. Secondly, the CCG has made progress in ensuring that GPs remain in the NHS and within general practice in particular, An example of that progress is the “GP Aspire” programme launched by the GP taskforce in Derbyshire. The programme started as a pilot back in 2018 and now provides support to all GPs across Derbyshire at any stage of their career. That includes, among other things, one-to-one careers guidance, signposting for wellbeing, mentoring, leadership and mental health advice. Since its launch, the programme has had some 116 individual contacts from Derbyshire GPs.

Retaining experienced GPs and encouraging more into the profession is the way we will be able to deliver more services across the nation and get more appointments into primary care, so people can get the right care from the right healthcare professional. On that, I add that I understand my hon. Friend’s point about pharmacies because the right appointment with the right healthcare professional for individuals will be hugely important as we begin to understand how to better work with the national health service across all the different healthcare professions.

I turn to the proposed closure of Pilsley branch surgery. As my hon. Friend outlined, the closure of a GP surgery is considered and decided by the local CCG, following the application from a GP provider. Such a decision understandably stirs up strong emotions within the local community, as he explained so well.

An application to close Pilsley branch surgery was submitted by Staffa Health in 2019. On the recommendation of the CCG, the public consultation was launched on 24 June. Staffa Health employed a wide range of feedback approaches during the 60-day period, including: meetings with staff; meetings with stakeholders and the patient participation group; issuing a letter, a “frequently asked questions” sheet and a questionnaire to all registered patients; text-message alerts to raise awareness of the consultation; and three face-to-face drop-in sessions. However, I understand what my hon. Friend said about the use of modern technology and how that may not always cover all patients who access local surgeries.

In addition to the consultation, the local petition calling for the closure to be halted, which got 592 individual signatures, was presented, and I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to Sheila Baldwin and Wendy Hardwick, who organised it. I commit here and now to ensuring that my officials write to the CCG to ask it to set out how it has fully taken on board the views of the ladies and the broader petition and the action that it intends to take in response. Those local views can often help to deliver the most sensible solutions for everybody.

Following the conclusion of the consultation, Staffa Health decided to continue with its application to close the Pilsley branch to ensure the long-term sustainability of its whole practice across the three other local settings. A report was compiled and submitted to the CCG engagement committee for review on 8 January, and it commended the consultation for being “robust”. The report was also submitted to Derbyshire County Council’s improvement and scrutiny committee, and the final decision regarding the future of the Pilsley surgery will now be made by Derby and Derbyshire CCG’s primary care co-commissioning committee. The committee has been asked by Staffa Health to approve the closure, but to postpone it for a year from the date that approval is given. That postponement is to allow time to increase the number of consultation rooms at the neighbouring Tibshelf surgery and to address car parking issues. Those specific concerns have been raised through the consultation to date.

The committee met on 22 January and decided at the meeting to defer its decision to the next meeting on 26 February, which I understand will be after my hon. Friend has met the Secretary of State with Staffa Health. In the run-up to and following the PCCC’s decision, the CCG and Staffa Health are urged to continue to listen to the concerns that have been raised and to ensure that appropriate action is taken to reduce the impact on the community, which my hon. Friend laid out so eloquently.

As I stated, improving access to general practice is a leading priority for our Government and, consequently, I have asked that I be kept informed about developments regarding the future of Pilsley branch surgery. I understand that workforce shortages have been cited as a reason behind the application to close, as my hon. Friend said, and I appreciate how challenging the situation is for GP surgeries across the country. As Jim Shannon outlined, it affects all of us, north to south, east to west, and particularly those trying to deliver across large rural areas and multiple sites, where delivery is extremely challenging. As such, I reassure my hon. Friend that tackling this issue lies at the heart of our determination to strengthen general practice and support those who work in it. We are committed to increasing the workforce, providing about 6,000 more doctors and 6,000 more primary care professionals such as physiotherapists, pharmacists and physician associates, on top of the 20,000 primary care professionals to whose funding NHS England is contributing.