THE MP for Tonbridge & Malling, Tom Tugendhat, has questioned the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in Parliament about the future of GP surgeries in small communities like West Malling.
The practice, which has 20,300 people on its books, will move the majority of its operation to Kings Hill next year.
There has been a surgery on the High Street for 70 years, but the current building was put up for sale by the partners at the West Malling Group Practice.
Since then the group has only offered a commitment to ‘retain a presence’ in the town. The move follows the closure of the GP surgery at East Peckham, which shut its doors at the end of March.
Mr Tugendhat asked Mr Hunt in the Commons: ‘Does he agree that, in local areas, some of the GP provision could do with a little more work?
‘I am particularly thinking of West Malling in my own constituency, where a large element of the community is finding it harder to get access, and there is a danger that the GP surgery may leave the high street.’
Mr Hunt replied: ‘My honourable friend is right to draw attention to that issue. He does have, I think, 28 more GPs in the West Kent Clinical Commissioning Group area than in 2010, but there is a particular issue over premises.
‘The need to invest in premises is deterring younger GPs from becoming partners, and sometimes making GP surgeries unviable. We are looking at that problem now.’
Afterwards Mr Tugendhat commented: ‘The future of West Malling’s GP Surgery remains uncertain, with residents not clear on what healthcare will look like in the town next year.
‘That’s why I raised this with the Health Secretary in the House of Commons. I’m glad that, like me, he recognises there are structural challenges in the NHS and West Malling needs a GP practice to serve all residents in the town.’
Two days later he asked Mr Hunt ‘what support his department provides to parish councils in assisting doctors’ surgeries to find suitable venues for general practice’.
Steve Brine, the Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care, replied: ‘General practitioners are independent contractors and therefore it is primarily for them to identify suitable premises from which to provide National Health Service primary medical services.
He added: ‘NHS England offers support to practices where necessary, without the need to engage parish councils.’
In addition to the closure in East Peckham, the surgeries at Higham Lane and Pembury Road in Tonbridge are slated for closure – with the new Tonbridge Medical Group super-clinic on the site of the Teen and Twenty Club on River Walk scheduled to take their patient lists.
Last week out-of-hours doctors’ appointments at Tonbridge Cottage Hospital on Vauxhall Lane were also terminated, with residents advised to go to a new Urgent Treatment Centre at -Tunbridge Wells Hospital in Pembury instead.
PICTURE: BAD PRACTICE: Tom Tugendhat at West Malling’s GP surgery, which is mostly moving to Kings Hill