Doctor's anger over health service cuts

A DOCTOR has hit out at health bosses for cutting frontline services when millions of pounds have been spent on new buildings which are not used to capacity.

By Juliette Maxam

A DOCTOR has hit out at health bosses for cutting frontline services when millions of pounds have been spent on new buildings which are not used to capacity.

Colchester Primary Care Trust has told GPs to reduce direct MRI referrals, practice-based physiotherapy services and NHS vasectomies in a desperate bid to clear a £800,000 deficit.

Dr Laurel Spooner, who in September moved her surgery to the PCT's new £2.5million Tollgate centre, said: “Our practice is half empty. It's larger than we wanted and now they can't afford to fill it. They built us an operating theatre for minor surgery and then cancelled that.”

She added: “The budget is overspent and we have to make savings. I don't think it should be the patients and basic services to patients which are hit - they should be the last thing to go.”

The Tollgate centre included a headquarters for health visitors, which has never been used due to problems with IT, costing the PCT £20,000 in rent.

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It also has a fully-equipped physiotherapy room - which Dr Spooner has now been told to close down - and PCT offices which are still empty.

Dr Spooner said the PCT should target non-clinical areas, such as management and administration, and evaluate what is value for money and beneficial to patients' well-being.

Dr Brian Balmer, chief executive of the Essex Local Medical Committee, said: “The only way to cut the deficit in the long term is to invest in primary care to give the best services close to home. They always say they're going to do that but as soon as there's a problem primary care services are the first to be cut.”

A spokesman from Colchester PCT said the trust has a statutory duty to provide the best possible health care to its resident population both now and into the future.

He said: “When we initially began discussions surrounding the new health centre development in Tollgate, it was agreed by all parties, including Dr Spooner and Colchester Borough Council, that when building the centre, we would accommodate provision for the future needs of the growing local population. We would have failed in our planning if all of the spare capacity, which we built into this site, was already being used.

“However, we do recognise that an anticipated delay in moving health visitor and district nurse services did occur due to the installation of telephone and network points. District nursing services are now being provided at the centre and health visiting will be in place within the next two weeks.”

He added: “Over the past 12 months, the PCT has seen an unexpected increase in activity and as such is limiting access to GPs' direct access to MRI testing and vasectomies until April 1, 2005.

“However, during this time, patients will be reviewed on an individual basis, should GPs make request to the PCT.

“To help reduce the current waiting list and increase the parity of access to physiotherapy services for all patients in Colchester, we have transferred funds from primary to secondary care enabling Essex Rivers Healthcare NHS Trust to employ two new physiotherapists at Colchester General Hospital, increasing the capacity currently provided by NHS services across the borough.”

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