GPs’ ongoing battle for Sidmouth’s Blackmore Health Centre

Sidmouth residents gathered at Blackmore Surgery to protest at the possible closure of the pract

Sidmouth residents gathered at Blackmore Surgery to protest at the possible closure of the practice. Hugo Swire MP made his way through an angry crowd as he met with surgery staff to discuss the future of the practice. - Credit:

Appeal for public support ahead of talks

Doctors battling to safeguard Blackmore Health Centre have voiced increasing frustration in negotiations with the landlord - and have expressed fears they could be forced out.

Sid Valley Practice partners urged the public to get behind their bid to buy the town centre surgery this week, ahead of upcoming talks, and warned that ongoing issues and spiralling costs continue to create tension.

The GPs first revealed their concerns in August and claimed plans by owner NHS Property Services (NHSPS) to redevelop the site – adding new flats and a pharmacy, as well as a new health centre – left them fearing for its future.

NHSPS this week told the Herald that an apparent hike in maintenance and rent costs was down to billing errors and stressed that it is committed to providing a purpose-built surgery on the site.

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A petition backing the doctors’ bid to buy the premises – a move they say will safeguard healthcare provision in the town – has gained 2,387 signatures to date.

Dr Joe Stych, one of the practice partners, said: “The problems working with NHSPS is pulling GPs away from their clinical contact with patients. Patients are losing out here. I would encourage patients to register with our petition to buy the building. Sidmouth does not need another block of retirement flats - people should make this clear to planners.

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“It had been agreed that we could buy Blackmore Health Centre and modernise it. NHSPS has halted the agreed process and seen vital works stall.

“This concerns us greatly - where will we serve our population in 20 years as the town continues to expand? The practice is committed to providing GP services in the centre of Sidmouth and is looking at alternative accommodations.”

He outlined proposed changes to the lease that would pass all cost of building provision back onto GPs, rather than the NHS, and claimed the practice is facing a £96,000 predicted maintenance bill for 2016-2017 - despite a forecasted total of £8,000 worth of completed work.

A spokesman for NHSPS said: “NHSPS is focussed on delivering improvements and a number of options are being considered. These include redeveloping the site to provide a new, purpose-built surgery with flats above it. This would ensure patients can receive treatment in a modern building and would offset some of the development costs.

“We recognise that some issues relating to charges and premises improvements have taken longer to resolve than we would have liked, but we are pleased to be working on solutions that will benefit the practice and local patients.”

He explained the invoices sent detailing ‘significantly increased’ maintenance costs were based on incorrect information from a former contractor and said NHSPS intends to revise the practice’s bills accordingly.

On the building costs footed by GPs, he said that the rules are determined by a national NHS document, under which practices are reimbursed for rent, rates, water and clinical waste by NHS England.

A second meeting with East Devon MP Hugo Swire, practice partners, patient representatives, NHSPS and NHS England will take place on Monday when the petition will be handed over.

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