We are all proud of our National Health Service, and our universal right to receive free health care at the point of need. As a former nurse, I am very worried that the ability to exercise this right is being threatened by the lack of access to GP services, which is why I have been campaigning against the potential closure of Skellingthorpe Health Centre.
The Glebe practice, which runs Skellingthorpe GP, has approached NHS Lincolnshire West Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to explore closing Skellingthorpe and transferring all patients to their main site in Saxilby. I am very concerned about this potential closure, as it would leave thousands of people in Skellingthorpe without local access to health care. I have contacted all households in the village, set up a petition against the closure, and held a well-attended public community event to hear the views of residents.
The most prevalent issue raised by Skellingthorpe residents was the available transport options for patients to travel to the Saxilby GP, or the closest surgery, Birchwood GP. As Skellingthorpe is a rural village, it is unsurprising that there is widespread anxiety about the transfer. Many patients may struggle with mobility issues due to age or illness, and others may not be able to afford to travel by public transport. Saxilby is 4.3 miles away with no direct public transport and Birchwood is 2 miles away.
I believe that everyone in Lincoln must be able to access their GP without worrying about a long or expensive journey. Earlier this year, I conducted a Transport Survey, which found that residents frequently highlighted Skellingthorpe as an area that is difficult to access via public transport. It would be unacceptable if vulnerable residents are forced to navigate a disjointed travel route, simply to access the care they need.
Many residents who came to the public meeting also raised concerns about the ability of the Saxilby and Birchwood GP surgeries to meet the needs of additional patients. GPs are only likely to be more stretched as the number of patients per doctor increases, and residents informed me that they already struggle to organise a timely appointment.
It is important to stress that the difficulties faced by our local health services are not the fault of Lincoln’s hardworking NHS staff, but rather reflects the national picture of a health service in crisis. The government has spent nine years running down the NHS, imposing the biggest funding squeeze in its history. Our NHS is currently short of over 100,000 staff, including 41,000 nurses and nearly 10,000 doctors, and rural areas such as Skellingthorpe particularly struggle to recruit enough staff.
I have raised the concerns of Skellingthorpe residents with Lincolnshire West CCG, the Department of Health and Stagecoach, and I am going to raise the closure with a Health Minister in a Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday morning.
It is vital that in the upcoming Lincolnshire West CCG consultation, the local opposition to the closure is not ignored. Last year the closure of Monks Road Walk-In-Centre went ahead against the wishes of 94% of surveyed residents. I acknowledge that the pressure is a result of the Government’s austerity agenda, but we cannot allow cuts to be rubber stamped in the face of such clear local opposition.
Together, we must continue to do all we can to oppose the closure of Skellingthorpe Health Centre, and fight for the right of everyone in Lincoln to access the care they need.