An NHS plan to amalgamate the Wigtown GP surgery with a practice in Newton Stewart from September has met with strong opposition from both patients and the town’s community council.
Due to a doctor retiring and a shortage of doctors to cover the practice, the health authority is proposing to make the Wigtown surgery mornings only.
however a letter sent to Dr Angus Cameron, the Medical Director of NHS Dumfries and Galloway, by Wigtown Community Council states that patients are “dismayed” at the proposals.
Concerns included a lack of any consultation on GP services by the new Practice and the impact on the elderly and other vulnerable members of the community including accessibility issues compounded by a dearth of public transport.
Sandra McDowall is part of an action group set up to consult with NHS Dumfries & Galloway about the changes. She said: “We don’t oppose the move as a group, but we do wish we had been consulted earlier as we could have launched a social media campaign to try and get a doctor. There is still hope of recruiting a fourth doctor to Newton Stewart which would be of benefit to Wigtown. We would also like to talk to the NHS about having the surgery open for two and a half days instead of five mornings. Not everyone can make a morning appointment. If people start to travel to Newton Stewart to see a doctor they will also visit the chemist there and do their banking there, which will threaten the Wigtown bank and chemist. Bus services also face further cut backs making it difficult for some patients to get to a surgery.”
An NHS spokesperson said: “The Wigtown practice and the Merrick practice will form a partnership from 1st September and in doing so will ensure GP services are sustained locally for the future. The Partnership will consist of the Wigtown Practice and the Merrick Practice and has been established following the announcement that Dr Dunn is retiring at the end of August.”
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The NHS spokesperson added: “Across the whole of the UK it is increasingly difficult to recruit GPs and this is particularly so in more rural areas. Repeated attempts to recruit doctors have been unsuccessful and following Dr Dunn’s retirement, Dr Gurling will be the only GP practicing from the High Vennel Surgery in Wigtown.
“The Galloway Hills Medical Group will bring together a larger number of GP’s into one practice and provide much better sustainability and variety of services locally. The Wigtown surgery will not be open for the same amount hours as at present. Patients who wish to be seen in afternoon or early evening appointments will be required to go to Newton Stewart Health Centre where we anticipate making improvements to the lay-out to facilitate the new arrangements. A brief audit of patients done last month showed that at least 73 per cent of patients attended the Wigtown surgery by car.”
Jeff Ace, Chief Executive, NHS Dumfries and Galloway Commented; “I am pleased that the doctors from the Wigtown Practice and the Merrick Practice in Newton Stewart have been able to work together to form this new partnership. A great deal of hard work has been done locally to complete the arrangements to partnership from 1st September and I believe that this arrangement offers the best solution for the preservation of GP services in the north of the Machars.”
Mid Galloway Councillor Jim McColm added: “Not everyone is in a position to jump in a car and travel to Newton. An evening surgery in Wigtown should be an option. The bottom line here is the difficulty in attracting doctors to rural areas.”