September 10, 2008

Job Axe Fears at Rural Surgeries

By Mark Branagan

The concerns about healthcare provision, especially in the remote communities of North Yorkshire, will come under the spotlight at the next meeting of the county council's scrutiny of health committee on Friday.Top of the agenda will be the public consultations on a Government White Paper setting out proposals for expanding high- quality pharmaceutical services and developing the role of pharmacists as a leading clinical profession within primary care.North Yorkshire has a high percentage of GP practices in areas such as Hambleton and Richmondshire, where 14 out of 18 of the surgeries fill their own prescriptions, compared to a national average of five per cent.Concerns are now growing about the impact of the changes in North Yorkshire's communities where traditionally revenues from dispensing help to fund extra healthcare services from the surgeries.These come when anxiety about local patient care is already high amid a review by North Yorkshire and York Primary Care Trust (PCT) and the South Tees Hospitals Trust.The review is looking at the accident and emergency and maternity services at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton and out of hours services at Catterick Garrison.County councillor John Blackie, who chairs the scrutiny of health committee, said: "We understand it is more costly to deliver healthcare services to rural areas."However, local people rightly expect the peace of mind that comes from knowing core services such as accident and emergency, maternity and out of hours care are available within reasonable travelling distance."As it stands now the Friarage Hospital already serves communities 40 miles away. I hope the NHS officers can re-assure us that these essential services are safe for the future."One impact of shifting the focus from GPs to pharmacists could be cuts to services provided over 600 square miles by The Central Dales Practice based in Hawes. It estimates it would have to reduce its four doctors to two, and its two surgeries to just one, Coun Blackie added.A spokesman for the North Yorkshire and York PCT has underlined that the consultation is being run centrally and the trust had no real involvement at this stage.Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo has told the House of Commons that the Government recognises the importance of the role of the dispensing GP and did not propose to end it.She said: "I know some dispensing GPs have expressed doubts about their future. It is not, and never has been, the Government's intention to disband or remove the services."However, the system of GP dispensing contains anomalies and inconsistencies, and we want to seek views on how to deal with that."The Government was not pre-judging the issue and there was no suggestion that dispensing by GPs would cease. They would play a vital part in the consultation process, she added.However, Coun Blackie said: "If revenues from dispensing are lost to GP practices it appears there could be drastic reductions in GP healthcare provision across large areas of the county."Storm clouds may be back on the horizon yet again for many of our rural communities in North Yorkshire."Friday's meeting at the Allerton Court Hotel in Northallerton starts at 10am and is open to the public to make statements and ask questions of senior officials.

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