'Many solutions to surgery crisis being explored'

You can read my latest monthly column for the Witney Gazette, here:

I was greatly concerned to learn that Cogges Surgery is intending to hand back its contract, meaning that Oxfordshire health bosses will have to find another provider or merge the practice with another. After all we have experienced, the last thing anyone wants in Witney is further uncertainty over our primary healthcare provision.

I share your concerns, and I have already raised this issue last week with the Secretary of State for Health in the House of Commons, where he promised to meet with me to discuss this further.  I would like to praise the passion of local residents, shown clearly by public meetings and the letters you have written to me.

I have never ceased fighting to ensure that Witney had sufficient primary care provision, both now and as the town grows, and to see that all patients are accommodated at a convenient practice.

The loss of Deer Park was a blow, but I was, assisted by the hard work of all groups involved, able to escalate the decision to close the practice to the Secretary of State for Health – the highest possible level and the first time a primary care decision has ever been referred to this level.

Since then, I have been working to ensure that primary healthcare in West Oxfordshire is considered in the round, so that all practices, pharmacies and the hospital in Witney work together to fulfil the needs of residents. I have been pushing for early and full consultation with residents and this is starting to happen.

Most importantly, I have pressed for closer working between health bosses and planning authorities. We live in a growing area, and our health services should be growing to match this need at the same time. I have arranged, for the first time, for health and planning authorities to work closely together to plan future growth and need. All stakeholders need to pull together for our primary care services.

The news about Cogges Surgery is therefore very concerning, despite these positive steps.  It is no one’s intention for the practice to close.  Unfortunately, recruitment and retention of GPs in Oxfordshire in particular is difficult, due in part to the high cost of living. I and all other Oxfordshire MPs held a debate on this very issue in Parliament earlier this year.  I am working with all stakeholders to find a solution to this larger issue, but of course this will take time.

As far as the Cogges practice in particular is concerned I will be speaking with patients and the practice, and have already been in contact with Oxfordshire health bosses, to help find a positive way forward. I am confident that there are a number of potential solutions which can be explored. There is a clear need for good access to GP services in Witney and I will keep fighting for them.

Let me be clear: this is not a time for divisive political point scoring. The Government has just set out its Five Year Forward View, by the end of which the NHS that will increase funding by £20.5bn per year. The issue here is nothing to do with funding: there are many other factors, such as a lack of GPs and the changing nature and demand of medicine.

There are more GPs in training, with an expected 5,000 additional doctors working in General Practice by 2020, thanks to new incentives for training, recruitment, retention and return to practice.  But, of course, it takes time to train doctors.

A solution for West Oxfordshire includes more innovative ideas, such as housing for key workers, such as doctors, nurses and teachers, which the Council are already looking into and which I am also exploring.

We do, however, have the opportunity to shape West Oxfordshire for decades to come.  With projected growth in our area, we could use this chance to ensure that new practices can be built to fit the needs of the population, affordable housing could be allocated for key workers, as well as gaining funding to improve our transport network.

I would like to hear from you further about this issue, especially as Cogges is an evolving situation.  Please do contact me at robert@robertcourts.co.uk.

Published on 01.08.18 in the Witney Gazette.