By Mal Butler
The Mayor of Yarmouth has accused the owners of the town’s GP surgery of putting profits before people after it was announced it would not reopen this week after closing temporarily due to the Covid-19 crisis.
Yarmouth Surgery, on Station Road, is part of the West Wight Medical Practice but needs work on it to bring it up to current medical standards. However, this work will not be funded by the NHS Isle of Wight Clinical Commissioning Group (IW CCG), according to the retired doctors who own the surgery.
The doctors are looking to sell the building and turn it into a three-bed residential property, as it used to be before it became a general practice. An application submitted by Dr Gordon Walker was the first news some local residents heard of the closure.
In planning documents submitted to the IW Council, Dr Walker said, due to the expansion of the Brookside Health Centre in Freshwater, the other half of the West Wight Medical Practice (WWMP), there would be enough clinical capacity to deal with the additional demand. He said: “The closure is entirely supported by the WWMP, which finds it very difficult to recruit doctors and would find it easier to provide general medical services to the West Wight population from one site as it has been encouraged to do so by NHS England.”
However, Steve Cowley, the Town’s Mayor, hit out at the decision saying: “Wight Primary Partnerships is a for profit company which sees this surgery as a drag on its profit and so supports the closure. Covid-19 is being used as an excuse; Covid will pass but the surgery is lost. The previous partners who own the property want to cash in by converting it back to a dwelling which will no doubt be sold to someone as a second home.
“Yarmouth is the victim of its own attractiveness. It’s a great place a live, a great base for a second home having a ferry service in town and a great harbour for sailing. But for West Wight young people it is a place where they cannot afford to live. The thousands of people in the areas around the town will lose their ability to use a health service in Yarmouth.”
Another town councillor, Rod Corbett, 77, who has lived or been associated with Yarmouth all his life, said: “It’s just another blow to the town. Lots of people go to the surgery because you have a better chance of actually seeing a doctor.
“Now our elderly will be forced to drive, take public transport or get a lift to get over to Freshwater. It’s all about the profit and what they can make out of it and nothing to do with care in the community.”
Tim Gibbs, of Yarmouth Pharmacy, said: “We operate from a 200-year-old building and have made it Covid safe; they can easily do the same. They could make it a one-way entrance and exit. There has been no public consultation about this and we have been badly let down.
“It will have a major effect on the vulnerable and elderly and I can’t see how it just can close without making some sort of provision for the people in the town.”
Yarmouth Surgery has been closed since the Covid lockdown started and Alison Smith, managing director of the IOW CCG, said the decision was made because it was not possible to keep patients safely distanced under the Covid guidelines.
She said: “The temporary closure allowed the practice to provide a clinically safe and resilient service in Brookside Surgery. Having a greater pool of GPs, clinical staff and admin staff on one site meant the surgery was able to continue providing services throughout the pandemic.
“Now that the landlords have sought to change the use of the Yarmouth Surgery site, and knowing the site is not Covid-safe, the CCG and practice will begin to consider the options for those patients who previously used the Yarmouth branch surgery. This will include a programme of engagement with patients and the community regarding the future provision.”
In a letter, submitted as part of the planning documents, Clive Oliver, managing director of Wight Primary Partnerships, told Dr Walker they accepted primary care services would stop at the surgery because they could not purchase the property as it would be a ‘huge and unsustainable financial drain on the practice’.