SOS campaign launched to save Sidmouth’s Blackmore Drive Health Centre

The Sidmouth Health Centre on Blackmore Drive. Ref shs 10-16SH 7180. Picture: Simon Horn

The Sidmouth Health Centre on Blackmore Drive. Ref shs 10-16SH 7180. Picture: Simon Horn - Credit: Archant

Call for community to support to keep surgery in town centre

Doctors faced with escalating costs and a rent hike of 50 per cent fear they could be forced out of Sidmouth’s Blackmore Health Centre.

The Herald exclusively revealed plans by owner NHS Property Services (NHSPS) to redevelop the town centre site - adding new flats and a pharmacy – in what Sid Valley Practice partners called a ‘commercial drive’ to maximise profit.

The GPs say they have been denied the chance to buy the surgery and while they remain committed to retaining the premises, they say escalating costs and a proposed rent increase of more than £22,000 could render this ‘impractical’.

They have launched a campaign to save Blackmore Health Centre and are appealing for support.

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NHSPS has responded to the claims, saying costs are reimbursable by NHS England and argued that in keeping ownership of the site, it is ensuring it will be used for NHS services as long as commissioners say it is required for such use.

It said it does not make profit, but ploughs money back into the NHS.

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Dr Joe Stych said: “We really want to buy the site so we are in control of what happens there, but have been refused. NHSPS’s main interest seems to be making a profit from the site rather than improving the facility for patients and the NHS. We have tried very hard to keep things amicable with NHSPS, but enough is enough. We would not want to move from Blackmore - it is a great convenient location for patients. However, working alongside NHSPS seems impractical. If we could find another central location with potential it may be that a move is needed.”

GPs say they struggle to work in the deteriorating premises and have been pressing NHSPS to carry out essential renovation work.

They say while redevelopment would offer new, modern facilities, it would also restrict parking and prevent future expansion.

A spokesman for NHSPS said building a purpose-built surgery with flats would help reduce the cost burden to the NHS of providing a new facility.

He added the same number of parking spaces would be allocated and said: “Other options include a major refurbishment of the existing, dated building. We are discussing these proposals, along with the potential need for expansion space, and billing queries with the practice.

“NHS England has indicated that, in principle, it would continue to reimburse the practice for the costs of rent, rates, water charges and clinical waste if a new development were approved.”

Di Fuller, chair of the Sid Valley Patient Participation Group (PPG), said: “The public feel very strongly that they want to retain the Blackmore site in some form.”

She added the PPG would support any strategy to retain a town centre surgery.

Practice partners personally shouldered a £2.1million loan to build the new Beacon Medical Centre but said it is ‘not an option’ to operate solely from there.

Mrs Fuller called on the community to get behind the practice and put pressure on NHSPS to either sell the surgery or provide adequate, updated premises to meet the growing needs of the community.

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