General Practice: Large Housing Developments — [Peter Dowd in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:26 am on 29th March 2022.

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Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury 10:26 am, 29th March 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I congratulate my hon. Friend Andrew Selous on securing this incredibly important debate. The debate brings together two of the biggest categories of complaints that I receive in my constituency: housing development and GP services.

The town of Aylesbury has been expanding for more than 50 years. Indeed, the area of Bedgrove, where my parents had their first home together and where they took me home as their newborn son, more than 50 years ago, was built on the site of a farm, and many more farms and green spaces have been subsumed by housing developments in the ensuing half century—Walton Court in the 1970s, Quarrendon and Watermead in the 1980s and Fairford Leys in the 1990s and early 2000s. All have attracted many more people to make their homes in the proud county town of Buckinghamshire. With each new development, new pressures have been placed on existing communities and the infrastructure that serves them. Key among those services is the provision of healthcare, especially GP surgeries.

I want to be clear that neither I nor my constituents are opposed to development. We recognise that the next generation needs somewhere to live, and Aylesbury is a fine place to choose. However, since 2000, more than 16,000 homes have been added to the town. The newly approved local plan will add that same number again. The people who come to live in those new homes need excellent local services. They need road and rail connections, such as the Aylesbury link road and the Aylesbury spur. They need schools with enough spaces for all the children living locally. Crucially, they need sufficient healthcare provision, particularly at primary level. Yet GP surgeries in my constituency are already at breaking point.

Like other hon. Members present, one of the most familiar refrains I hear from residents is that they simply cannot get an appointment to see their doctor. In recent months, I have visited several GP surgeries not only to thank the hardworking doctors, nurses and, crucially, receptionists for their incredible work during the pandemic, but to hear first hand about the challenges they are experiencing. Top of their list is that there is simply not enough capacity to deal with all the patients who need care.

Meadowcroft surgery is a good example of the pressures that population growth can have on towns like Aylesbury. The surgery opened in 1964 to serve what was then the new Quarrendon estate. It moved to a new site at Jackson Road in 1992, with 8,000 patients on the list. Today that list stands at more than 16,000, and will grow to more than 26,000 when the surgery moves to another new site in Paradise Orchard later this year, following a merger.

For more than a decade, residents in the south of Aylesbury in Stoke Mandeville and Weston Turville have been opposed to a new development on a greenfield site called Hampden Fields. The Hampden Fields Action Group is extremely concerned that the development will have inadequate healthcare provision. Their fears are completely understandable, given that another area—Kingsbrook—is yet to have a new surgery 10 years after its construction.

It is just plain common sense that new housing developments need to include healthcare provision. GP surgeries and all that they now include—such as paramedics, pharmacists and, of course, nurses—are absolutely critical to that provision. We must ensure that buildings for these facilities are core to the design and planning of large-scale new housing developments, and we must also remember that we do not just need the premises; we need the people as well. So we need to ensure that we have enough young people training to join the health service across the full range of its professions, with courses such as those at Buckinghamshire New University, Buckinghamshire College Group and Buckinghamshire University Technical College all providing that critical first step.

We must consider retention as well as recruitment, so that people living in those housing developments will still have excellent healthcare provision in 10, 20 and 30 years’ time. And we must not forget that primary healthcare can result in referral to secondary healthcare. GPs send some of their patients to hospital, and that route must not be neglected either, when we consider housing development on a scale such as we are seeing in Aylesbury.

It cannot be left to a random soup of acronyms— section 106, CIL and HIF—to make all of that necessary provision. What we need is a strategic, considered plan that can be delivered fairly and transparently. And within that plan, we probably need to consider novel ways of financing infrastructure, so that we get it at a much earlier stage—before all the houses are sold and when the developers are prepared to pay.

Today’s debate is an important and welcome opportunity to highlight how crucial healthcare is to the British people as we tackle the burgeoning demand for new homes. I hope that the Minister’s response will serve to reassure existing and future residents of Aylesbury that the Government understand the challenge and are set to meet it head-on.