Concern has been raised over a planning application to convert a ‘vulnerable’ GP practice with 4,000 patients in Brixington, Exmouth, into a pair of homes.
Proposals for a change of use at Raleigh Surgery, in Pines Road, have been submitted to East Devon District Council (EDDC).
The bid has been made with an eye on the future – should the heath hub’s only partner decide to one day retire.
A nearby pharmacy has reacted by saying that, without the practice, it could in turn be forced to close – hitting the health and wellbeing of residents in the area.
Exmouth Town Council has also expressed its opposition to the plans.
Staff at the surgery this week moved to reassure residents that it will not be closing. – and that planning permission is being sought ‘purely for the future’.
The surgery is owned and run by a sole GP – applicant Dr Karen Knight.
Plans state there is ‘no guarantee’ another partner can be found to keep the practice running when she decides to retire.
A statement in the application by Vinnarry Property Design Solutions Ltd tells EDDC: “The traditional form of ownership of a GP surgery is a partnership approach, whereby several GPs share the risk and the responsibility of financially supporting and the day-to-day running of the business.
“Sadly, due to the significant real terms reductions in the funding we receive from NHS England, we have struggled to attract additional partners to join the practice.
“Unfortunately, the salary expectations of a GP who simply wishes to be an employee now sometimes exceed the drawings available to partners in the business, acting as a disincentive for GPs to consider becoming partners.
“Further disincentives include the financial risk of owning the premises and the financial liabilities when changes need to be made to the building.
“Finally, as a practice which does not dispense medication due to the presence of an established pharmacy 100 yards away from our premises, our options to diversify our income stream are further reduced.
“This leaves our organisation vulnerable, as our only owner moves through her 50s towards retirement, as there is no guarantee of robust health or another partner being sourced before Dr Knight achieves retirement.
“In addition to these internal struggles, there is also a national trend away from small, local practices to larger, merged practices.
“Exmouth already has four other GP surgeries, and there is also provision in nearby towns and villages in Woodbury and Budleigh Salterton.
“These practices could easily absorb the 4,000 patients registered with Raleigh, and this would fit with the direction of NHS England in the long-term.
“The surgery is terrifically located in the heart of Brixington, and has easy access to shops, parks, a school and the aforementioned pharmacy, so the building would be ideal for conversion into residential units to meet extremely high demand for housing in Exmouth.”
The Essential Pharmacy Ltd, which has operated Pines Pharmacy in Brixington for more than a decade, has written to EDDC to oppose the plans.
Director Alison Hayes has told the authority: “The potential closure of Raleigh Surgery could have a significant impact in the viability of Pines Pharmacy as a business and its closure.
“There has been a GP Surgery at this location for about 38 years and a pharmacy at this for about the same.
“There is no alternative provision for healthcare in the neighbourhood, which is expanding with recent planning for 350 houses off Higher Hulham Road and provision in the town itself is at capacity.”
She adds Brixington has a high percentage of elderly residents and an increasing proportion of young families with the new development.
“Both of these populations have a higher need for health care provision,” says Mrs Hayes.
“We believe that closure of the surgery and potentially the pharmacy will have a detriment on the health and wellbeing of the local population.”
Another objector has told EDDC: “The surgery is really important to the residents of Brixington and the surrounding estates.
“Surely this application cannot be supported, where are the local people to go for their healthcare?”
Town councillors have opposed the bid – as it goes against the Exmouth Neighbourhood Plan.
Members cited policy CF1 in the document, which states: “Any development proposal which leads to a reduction in current health and wellbeing facilities will not be supported unless mitigated by improved or increased capacity for the delivery of health and wellbeing services.”
Permission is also sought to create parking areas, for a roof extension to the property’s front elevation and to install rooflights.
The fate of the application relating to Raleigh Surgery will be decided by EDDC.
UPDATE: Raleigh Surgery said in a statement on Thursday, November 14: “Raleigh Surgery is not closing.
“We have submitted a planning permission application in order to provide us with a contingency plan in the future.
“We cannot predict how services will need to be provided into the future, and wish to be prepared should there be a need for us to move to a larger premises or if there is ill health among the management team at the surgery.
“There is absolutely no need to register elsewhere, and we are more than happy to discuss the plans, and our reasons for submitting this application if any of our patients continue to be concerned.”