This evening I went along to the first of two public meetings hosted by the Swindon Clinical Commissioning Group for the patients at the 5 GP surgeries administered by IMH. This public meeting came about after nearly a year of pressure from local residents, myself and other campaigners.
IMH will be out of Swindon by the end of November and all 5 surgeries will have new providers from within Swindon.
The public were given over an hour to ask questions, which centred particularly on the impact of the failures of the call centre hub to answer the phones so patients could see GPs and nurses. Several patients told stories about how their mental health as well as their physical health was impacted.
People wanted to understand how IMH had been awarded the contract in the first place, and the answer from the CCG is that this was down to the GPs because all surgeries are run essentially as private businesses on contracts from the CCG. This is true, but the issue of accountability still remains to be answered since no one from IMH or any of the 5 surgeries was available at the meeting to answer questions. Both Swindon Labour Parliamentary Candidates have written to NHS England this year, and we will continue to press home the question of how primary care is governed to make sure that the IMH fiasco cannot happen again.
Dr Bruen, the GP representative on the CCG, explained that only 8% of NHS funding goes into primary care and they see 90% of cases. It is also true that GP shortages have had a huge part to play in the need for IMH and then the CCG, to ‘come to the rescue’ to save surgeries on the brink of closure. Patients wanted to know why years of promises of more funding for the NHS still results in surgeries that cannot afford to employ more doctors, combined with the fact that there are not enough GPs in training to meet the need. The CCG agreed that underfunding is a problem that needs politicians to follow through on funding promises.
I raised the issue of communication from the surgeries and CCG to the patients. The surgeries will now work with other local providers of healthcare in Swindon, rather than an external company (i.e., other surgeries or the community arm of the Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust), but people still feel that they are being left in the dark and are not being consulted on what they want in primary care. Patients want to know what this will look like in practice when IMH finally leaves Swindon in November, they want to be sure that more of the same issues cannot arise again, and that they are informed about the changes happening to their services. I will keep in touch with the CCG on this issue as I have done for the past 11 months.
Thanks to the constant pressure and communication from campaigners, the CCG has understood that Swindon patients do not want a distant private provider running their GP services, they want people they know to answer the phone, triage appointments and manage their health needs.
Changes to partnership of the 5 surgeries are:
Taw Hill will now work with Westrop Medical Practice.
Eldene Surgery with Victoria Cross.
Abbey Meads Group and Moredon will partner with GWH Hospitals Foundation Trust.
Phoenix Surgery will partner with another Swindon GP surgery (still tbc).