Crisis talks are being held by patients and staff to save a rural medical practice from imminent closure.
Slaidburn Health Centre is facing the axe as it struggles to remain financially viable.
Now, The East Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Group has served notice for the contract to end on September 30th, unless NHS England can find a new provider prepared to run it.
Slaidburn Country Practice is a very small, rural practice. Isolated from its neighbours by the Bowland Fells, it has a practice population of just over 1,100 and covers an area of 120 sq miles. The closure would result in patients from the Slaidburn area making a 20-mile round trip to see a doctor, while the nearest A&E is in Blackburn, almost an hour away.
Worried patients have set up a Facebook page called "Save Slaidburn" and are now considering launching a crowdfunding appeal to raise the funding shortfall – estimated to be £40,000 a year.
Concerned for the future of the health centre, patient Tracy Ankers, said: "This is a totally unfair situation! The residents of Slaidburn and the surrounding areas have no access to public transport to reach any other health centres. For example, the cost of a round trip taxi to Clitheroe from Slaidburn is over £40!"
Meanwhile, Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans has called on the Department for Health to meet with him to discuss the future of the doctors surgery.
He said: “Rural medical services must be dealt with differently to urban services to address their contrasting needs. It is worrying that a service with a patient book of 1,100 is under threat – I can imagine there are hundreds of services across the UK with smaller numbers. I hope the Secretary of State for Health appreciates the urgency of my meeting request and works with all parties involved to achieve a favourable outcome. I will continue to work with the Patients Group to ensure all possible avenues to save the medical centre are assessed. I will be in Slaidburn for my summer surgery at 11-20am on Saturday (August 31st) at the Hark to Bounty – I look forward to seeing as many residents as possible.”
Responding, Dr Richard Robinson, local GP and chair of the CCG, said: “The health and wellbeing of local people is at the heart of our approach to providing GP services in communities. Locally, people are understandably passionate about the future of the practice. No one wishes to see the loss of a much valued GP service in Slaidburn and we are working hard to ensure that this doesn’t happen. We do see this as an opportunity to be creative and innovative in response to the challenge we face and in doing so provide a service that not only ensures continuity, but meets the health needs of local people.”
The CCG has said it has invited GP providers to bid for and secure the service for the health and it hopes to attract bidders with "creative approaches".
A spokesman said: "The size and location of the practice means that we as commissioners as well as the providers of the service need to carefully plan and ensure that care is given in the best way possible to patients. The practice has historically received additional funding due to its rural isolation and size. This has been a higher funding amount than for other practices in urban and more deprived areas, which typically experience a greater demand. Unfortunately, even with this additional funding, the current provider of the GP service at the practice, despite their efforts, has struggled to remain financially viable and has served notice for the contract to end on September 30th.
"We have invited GP providers to bid for and secure the service for Slaidburn Country Practice and hope to attract bidders with creative approaches. We value our GPs and the services they provide; they play an important role improving the health and wellbeing of people and communities. We anticipate that this process will conclude on Friday and we are hopeful that we will be able to find a new provider for the practice."