Great news about Lewisham Hospital – but what’s happening to GP services in Greenwich?

Lewisham_Hospital_Victory - July 2013Well done to the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign. Earlier this year they got the High Court to rule that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s plan to downgrade Lewisham’s Accident and Emergency and Maternity services was unlawful. Now they have also faced down Hunt’s appeal against this High Court judgement.

This means the Health Secretary must go back to the drawing board and properly listen to patients and doctors in reviewing hospital services in south-east London. See here for the press coverage of the victory on October 29th, in case you missed it.

The campaign, which Labour in Lewisham has actively supported but not led, has been fantastic – with two large marches (one of them in the pouring rain) attracting 15,000 people each time to march down Lewisham High Street, and a number of smaller events. The campaign has captured the popular imagination across south London, and channelled the anger of local people into a David-against-Goliath legal victory that will go down in history.

It has been claimed by some parties that Labour in Greenwich has not been as supportive of the save Lewisham Hospital Campaign as it could have been. Try telling that to the hundreds, if not thousands of people from Greenwich – many Labour Party members included – who have marched in the rain, collected signatures on petitions, fund-raised and organised meetings on the subject for the last two years. For people in Blackheath, Lewisham is as much their “local” NHS hospital as Queen Elizabeth Hospital is.

But it is not just hospitals that are under threat from the Coalition’s health policies. There are concerns about primary care – such as GP surgeries and health centres – as well. 

I have recently been contacted by several patients of the Millennium Health Centre on the Greenwich Peninsula who have concerns about a lack of permanent doctors there – most of the doctors seem to be temporary doctors, or “locums”, who come and go regularly (the Health Centre is well outside the boundaries of Blackheath Westcombe ward, but many Westcombe Park residents use it, partly because some of its original GPs had worked at the Vanbrugh Hill health Centre before the Millennium Health Centre was opened in 2001).

Millennium Health CentreThe Millennium Health Centre used to be one of the most respected health centres in Greenwich. But its founders, Karim Jan Mohamed and Shezara Mohammed, controversially lost their contract to run it in 2011 (see here for coverage of this in the health trade press). The couple moved to Trinidad shortly afterwards and wrote a farewell letter to patients which said “We have always striven to provide patient-centred and empathetic care in what has become a more fragmented health care system that most patients will agree is undergoing further unnecessary radical change locally and nationally.”

When two of the most popular GPs in Greenwich say something like that, it’s time to sit up and listen.

Less than two years later, the Health Centre (now called the Greenwich Peninsula Practice) changed hands again, when Malling Health, a large GP consortium based in King’s Hill, Kent, took over in April 2013. The new practice’s website boasts that “Other than the Doctors who have left the practice, you will not see or experience any major changes other than positive ones to the services you receive from your surgery”.

Patients beg to differ. Until 2011, the patient feedback on the surgery was excellent. But more recent feedback is a lot more mixed – one patient complaining in September 2013 that “This used to be a really great practice but recent the doctors who ran it left the practice. While the nurses are still the same, and very good, there are not enough doctors anymore and reception seems to have gotten much ruder and far more awkward. I got told off for being 3 minutes late for an appointment but they have no problem with making me wait nearly an hour for a doctor to sign my prescription.” .

The practice’s reply (“I would like to apologise for your experience and rest assured your issues have been addressed. I hope that you will bare with us during the transition period and we are now at full capacity for our clinical team, Many thanks for your continued support”) is not reassuring. Any GP practice that is still in a “transition period” and asking patients to “bare (sic) with us” five months after a change of management has got some explaining to do. A similarly negative review from November 2011 (shortly after the original GPs left) has not been replied to at all.

To their credit, the Clinical Commissioning Group in Greenwich, and NHS London, have told me that they are working with the practice to improve. I am told that Malling Health has recruited two permanent GPs this summer and is looking to recruit more.

Not all these problems can be blamed on Government policy of course – but if the NHS wasn’t being turned into a marketplace, with popular GPs forced out by competitive tendering, these problems probably would not have arisen at all.

What the NHS calls a  “successful competitive tender process” is yet to translate into satisfied patients. I and other Labour representatives will be keeping a close watch, and we hope that Malling Health will ensure this part of the NHS becomes as popular and well-respected as it once was.

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One Response to Great news about Lewisham Hospital – but what’s happening to GP services in Greenwich?

  1. Pingback: Safe in their hands? Coalition changes law to make it easier to cut services at Lewisham Hospital | Blackheath Westcombe Labour

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