A 21,000 signature petition against threatened cuts to GP surgeries in Hackney and Tower Hamlets was presented to 10 Downing Street on Wednesday after a demonstration by local campaigners.
About 60 protesters with banners bearing slogans such as “Hunt and Cameron, NHS for sale” and quotes from Aneurin Bevan, the founder of the NHS and Minister of Health from 1945 to 1951, gathered in front of 10 Downing street.
Local MPs present included Rushanara Ali, from Bethnal Green and Bow MP and Jim Fitzpatrick MP for Poplar and Limehouse, along with GPs from Tower Hamlets and Hackney, affected by a change in NHS funding which campaigners say threaten to close up to 22 East London GP surgeries. A number of other GPs from similarly affected areas around the country also joined the protest
The lobby started with Virginia Patania, the practice manager from Jubilee Street Practice in Bow speaking about how difficult it already is to serve a very deprived borough with a lot more demand for such surgeries than is currently available.
The Jubilee street practice faces losses of over £900,000. Last Tuesday the patients were told that if these cuts go through, they may be forced to close their services in November unless the NHS provides them with another funding solution.
Naomi Beer, a GP at the practice said: “We always hear from patients how good the care is that we provide. We have already made some of our own cuts to try to keep going but if this goes through we will close sometime in November as we are facing a very big loss. NHS has been around so long, Britain has the number one health service in the world. The Government simply does not understand that such areas as East London have a lot bigger needs than wealthier ones. One fourth of our patients do not speak English. It is difficult enough even without budget cuts. All these people cannot change GP practices, I really hope this petition gets through.”
Ali said: “Our local GP surgeries play a crucial role in allowing local residents to access frontline primary care. Only last week, The Royal College of General Practitioners warned that GPs are likely to turn away patients over 50 million times next year and that a lack of investment has brought the service to its knees.”
“Nearly 100 GP surgeries in London face closure because the government has changed the funding formula and is taking money away from deprived areas such as East London.”.
Fitzpatrick told ELL: “This is an issue that reaches out beyond East London, it is an issue that reaches all of Britain. These cuts are going to cause problems to everybody, patients especially. It is unacceptable for NHS services to be taken away from the citizens. We will do anything in our power to fight this.”
“I don’t think the petition will solve the whole problem, it is much bigger than that. The petition is just a stepping stone and there will be a lot more to do if we want to Save Our Surgeries.”
Some of the other MPs who co-signed a letter to David Cameron include Meg Hillier, Dame Joan Ruddock, Kate Hoey, Heidi Alexander, Lyn Brown, Seema Malhotra, Diana Abbott, Frank Dobson and Jim Dowd.
June Houtot from Walthamstow who joined the rally said: “ The Government is taking away something that has been around for a very long time and not even thinking rationally about the fact that each area, especially the poorer ones, will be affected a lot more than wealthier areas.”
“We, the older citizens will have it the worst, we cannot just relocate from one place we have relied on for years to another clinic a lot farther away.”
Saha Bhanduri who would be affected by the closure of the Crisp Street Health Centre in Tower Hamlets told ELL: “We have a very large family, my father is very old and we have to take him to the doctor quite often. The Chrisp Street practice is the closest one to where we live, even I use it. If both the Chrisp street and Jubilee Street practices close I do not know what we will do.”
“We cannot afford to go clinics further away twice a week. A lot of people I know rely on the practices in the area. If they close it will be very bad.”
Danny Curie, a disabled Tower Hamlets resident who uses a wheelchair has relied on the Jubilee Street surgery for over 30 years because it is the closest to his home and faces the prospect of difficult trips to surgeries further away.
Curie said: “The potential closure of this highly regarded practice is clearly a matter which has impact upon the manner in which services are delivered to patients, and the range of health services available to them. The government must do more to address the consequences of its decisions and funds need to be spent to reduce not increase the disparity in the services provided”
The background to the protest is here.
The cuts have come about because of a change in NHS funding which removes the Minimum Practice Income Guarantee from GP surgeries to make them more self sufficient as part of the process of moving to a new contract based service.
Partners of the Jubilee Street practice argue that withdrawing MPIG, at least in their case, does not take into account the levels of deprivation in the area, ethnicity or even the general health of some patients, who rely on surgery practices in the area and cannot simply start going to another one.
In an earlier interview, Patania told ELL: “If the cuts were to take place in their suggested form, we are set to lose about 23% over the next 7 years in core income.”
If the practice were to close, she said: “This would signify 11000 patients losing their usual doctor and the enhanced primary care services this surgery provides, we are thus far, the only practice in Tower Hamlets who has made their longer term plans clear, but there are practices losing even more money than we are, overall.”.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “The MPIG was introduced in 2004 to support practices moving to a new GP contract. The NHS will be supporting the most affected practices to adjust, as these payments are gradually phased out over even years, and the money will be reinvested in general practices.