During a meeting of the district council’s overview and scrutiny committee, members questioned Simon Clavell-Bate, head of estates for West Sussex Clinical Commissioning Group, about GP provision in the area.
Mr Clavell-Bate said that setting up a practice at Whitehouse Farm had been an option ten years ago but the better choice was to set up in the proposed Southern Gateway community hub.
While only at the preparation stage, the hub is pencilled in for completion in 2025/26 and would be the new home of the Cathedral practice.
There are also plans to extend the Southbourne practice and – money allowing – the Langley House practice.
Mr Cavell-Bate said: “Mixing with a much larger cohort of additional services and community services on a fit-for-purpose site has many, many benefits that were greater than the option for Whitehouse Farm.
“Since 2017, we’ve been looking at what can we do and what are the best options.”
He said work had been carried out with the council, developers, GPs and other community services and – following an options appraisal – it was agreed that the Southern Gateway site was ‘very, very favourable’.
But that’s for the future and councillors had a lot of questions about GP provision in the district today – particularly the problems patients faced when trying to book an appointment.
Christopher Page (Ind, North Mundham & Tangmere) told the meeting there was a ‘great sense of unhappiness’ about GP services at the moment.
He added: “Relying on the Southern Gateway, which is at present just an outline plan, and assuming that it’s going to be ready in five years from now, I think is just pie in the sky.
“What you’re telling us is we’ve got to exist with this terrible situation that we have until you get a decent community hub.
“Well my constituents are not happy.”
GPs all over the country have long warned about the rise in demand for primary care services.
Earlier this year, the Doctors’ Association UK wrote a letter to then health secretary Matt Hancock calling for an urgent review of the demand at GP practices, after it saw workloads ‘going through the roof’.
Figures from NHS Digital showed that in July, GPs in the West Sussex Clinical Commissioning Group area dealt with 381,367 appointments – an increase of 26,094 on July 2020.
Of those patients, more than 108,000 either saw a doctor, received a home visit or had a telephone or video consultation between one week and four weeks after making their appointment.
Just over 169,253 were helped on the day they called and a further 31,682 one day after calling.
As well as dealing with general appointments, July saw more than 66,500 people make Covid vaccination appointments
Mr Cavell-Bate agreed the last 18 months had been ‘challenging’ but pointed out that there had already been a high demand for services even before the pandemic hit.
He told the meeting that GPs were working with the district council to look at using other sites – such as the Westgate Leisure Centre – to provide medical services.
Louise Rudziak, housing & environment services officer, said various options were being discussed but it was ‘very early days’