Sharon Morris: Walden Mums discuss Surgery merger…

“Merger of two Saffron Walden GP surgeries to create super practice” (Saffron Walden Reporter 13th November 2014).

Saffron Walden residents are being asked their views on a proposed merger between two Doctors Surgeries. In a bid to improve patient services by pooling resources and extending opening hours, it is proposed that Borough Lane Surgery, who also have premises in Great Chesterford, close in April 2015, and existing patients be seen at the Rectory Practice across town, whilst a site for a new purpose built practice is found “…within the next five years.” (SWR).

Improving patient services is something that we must surely all approve of, but, upon reading the article, I can’t help wondering exactly how services will be improved by reducing three sites to two for the 12,000 patients registered at both practices, and in particular, those who use Borough Lane Surgery in Saffron Walden?

My family is registered at Borough Lane Surgery. I like the existing surgery in Saffron Walden, it is on the side of town in which I live and I can walk there within 15 minutes. I have always been offered an appointment when I have needed one either there or in Great Chesterford and I have yet to have problems parking when unable to walk. I would not be able to walk to the Rectory, especially not if unwell or with unwell children. I am lucky though in that I can drive and have access to a car. Existing patients at the Rectory say appointments are already hard to come by and parking is difficult in the small surgery car park. Any free parking spaces in town are used by people who work there. The Common car park is often full and with the car park at Waitrose scheduled to be closed for the first half of 2015, it is possible that the nearest place to park will be Swan Meadow, at least a 7 minute walk away for someone fit and healthy who knows the short cut by the duck pond! But what about those who don’t have access to a car or can’t drive? Those who are disabled? The elderly? How will this move improve services for them if it removes their ability to physically get to the surgery? What happens if a site for a new practice cannot be found at all let alone within the five year period? There are few sites left in town that are not earmarked for housing and surely none suitable for such a scheme. If a site is found will it be convenient for those currently using Borough Lane Saffron Walden or will it be even further across or even out of town?

I asked Saffron Walden Yummy Mummy’s, a Facebook Group, their views and I am not alone in being unconvinced;

“I’m very dismayed to hear this news. My daughter needs reasonably frequent trips to the GP but we’re lucky enough to live very close to Borough Lane, so most appointments haven’t been too disruptive in terms of time off school, etc.” Katrin Legg.

Catherine Patmore, “I like the idea of a big decent practice but I do question where they’d put it that would be central enough for people.”

Katie Bethune sums up the feelings of many, “The Rectory Surgery building is quite small, I don’t understand how they will fit the Borough Lane doctors and patients in as well. I think getting an appointment will be a lot harder as I’m guessing they will have to reduce the number of doctors available across both surgeries to fit into the Rectory. Plus there are so few parking spaces available at the Rectory, it’s going to be impossible to park.”

At a time when the population is increasing and existing GP services are already stretched, to close one site before a new site has been identified and a new surgery built is, in my opinion anyway, short sighted at the very least. I am interested to hear the proposal in full at the open public meeting on Monday 8th December 7.45pm in St Mary’s church parish rooms and hope you will join me in airing your views both for and against.