The St Leonards Centre in Oakley was packed to the rafters for the public meeting held in response to the proposals of the Oakley and Overton Partnership to reduce the services provided at the Surgery in Sainfoin Lane in Oakley and to concentrate them at the Surgery in Station Road, Overton.
The petition protesting about the plans reached 1600 signatures before the meeting was opened by the Chairman of the Parish Council, Martin Cook, who then handed over to John Burbidge-King who chaired the meeting.
Mr Burbidge-King, who had contested the County Council election as a candidate last year, emphasised that this was not a partisan or political meeting, and welcomed four representatives from the practice and invited Dr Coppin to explain the background to the letter sent to patients about the changes.
Dr Richard Coppin spoke for 30 minutes, explaining the background to the letter. He recognised that the wording had upset people, and wanted to explain the pressures on the practice and on those who worked for it that had led up to the decision to concentrate on Overton. He said the premises in Overton were larger, and the practice list there was also larger than the one at Oakley - 5800 against 5015. With changes in primary care and the advent of practice-based commissioning, general practice was being encouraged to operate out of larger units.
He also explained the personnel problems that had dogged the surgery at Oakley, which had got worse since the letter had gone out at the beginning of the month. It was proving very difficult to manage two surgeries of equal size, and the practice had engaged independent consultants who specialised in primary care, who had produced the recommendations contained in the letter. It remained his objective to continue to provide high quality primary care to all patients, but in hiw view the present position was unsustainable.
Sir George said that the meeting was an important one for the village. "I have detected the village and the practice moving further away from each other over the past few weeks. i hope this meeting can bring them together and not drive them further apart. It can provide an opportunity for the practice to understand the depth of feeling in the village; and for the village to gain an insight into the problems that confront the practice. I hope this is the beginning of a productive dialogue that should perhaps have started some time ago."
Sir George repeated an offer he had made to the practice to intervene with the North Hants PCT if that would be helpful and pledged himself, as the local MP, to do all he could to maintain access to high quality healthcare for his Oakley constituents.
During the question and answer session that followed, the motives behind the proposed changes were discussed, and the practice denied strenuously that the prospect of planning gain was a factor. There was much debate about the difficulties of travelling to and parking in Overton, and the proposal that a minibus service could be introduced free of charge was rejected. Issues of personnel management were raised, as a result of the sickness record of those working in Oakley - "Who is caring for the carers?"
Some of those present said that recent government pronouncements about the health service being more accessible, tailored to patients' needs and underpinned with statutory rights to levels of service and consultation was raising expectations probably beyond what can be universally delivered!
At the end of the meeting, a subgroup was formed which will meet the PCT next week. The practice agreed to postpone implementation of the changed, that had been planned for March 6th.
Also at the meeting were County Councillor Anna McNair-Scott and local councillor Cecilia Morrison.
(More to follow)