'Incredibly upsetting': GPs say services are not financially viable due to funding cuts

GPs at the Ambleside Health Centre say they have been pushed into a corner. Credit: ITV News Border

Patients in the Central Lake District say they are angry and scared as GPs have told them they can no longer run their local surgeries in Ambleside and Hawkshead because they are not financially viable.

The Central Lakes Medical Group - which run The Ambleside Health Centre and Hawkshead Medical Practice - has experienced funding cuts because their resident population is becoming smaller in an area popular with tourists.

The Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care Board says it is committed to finding another GP provider to run the service.

Dr Kaye Ward has been a GP at Ambleside for 16 years - she told ITV News Border: "We really have explored all options to try and find another solution and we have been backed into this corner where we have felt obliged to hand our contract back. 

“It is frustrating and it is incredibly upsetting. We did not want to get to this point."

She added: "We really have been pushed into a corner from which we think we have no other choice.

“I didn't want to finish like this. I didn't want to end up in this position. We really don't want to be here."

  • Video report by Fiona Marley Paterson.

The practice used to receive funding for providing a service to local tourists, but now the Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care Board have decided they would be better served with another service just for them.

The new service will cost £170,000, and the GPs can bid to deliver it, but The Central Lakes Medical Group say it would be more work for the same money, and they have not got the staff as they are busy with the resident population.

The practice has 6,400 registered patients across 200 square miles.

Dr Ward said: "It has been a very personalised service. One of the doctors who is retiring in September has been here 26 years, I have been here 16.

She added: "You get to know the people and you get to know who lives where and who their carers are and what help and support they have.

"You can't buy that. That's something you learn."

The GPs say in situations like Storm Arwen, the years of experience that they provided in the community were invaluable.

They say, in some cases, vulnerable patients lost their heating and electricity which was needed to power their life-saving equipment.

Dr Ward said: "We were able to say actually we know Mrs so-and-so lives with her daughter, or we know next door will pop in and keep and eye on them. But actually we know that person is by themselves in the middle of no-where, so they are the person we need to check on.

"That is the bit I love about general practice, that is why I came and did it.

"I like to know who somebody's aunty is and someone's cousin and it is for most GPs really."

The doctors say patients are telling them they are scared by the situation.

Dr Ward added: "They are really worried; they are absolutely distraught; they do not want this to happen; that they really value us; that we provide a really good service.

"It is quite worrying how scared they are about what might happen."

GPs say local surgeries in Ambleside and Hawkshead are not financially viable. Credit: ITV

The area is a sparsely populated rural area which is becoming increasingly more expensive to live in, making it harder for young people to stay.

This means there is a higher percentage of older patients, with more complex medical needs.

Colyn Earnshaw lives in Elterwater. He has had 3 strokes and has a respiratory problem. He told ITV News Border, "it makes me feel vulnerable".

Mr Earnshaw says he tries to plan all his appointments around bus service times because he cannot drive now, and adds that it would be a lot harder if he had to travel further to see his GP.

Colyn Earnshaw says he has an exceptionally good relationship with all members of staff at the health centre.

He said: "The bus service to get to Ambleside is quarter past ten in the morning, and it comes back in the middle of the afternoon, so that is the best part of the day gone. 

“If you have to go to the Westmorland General it is a day out completely."

Mr Earnshaw also says he has "an exceptionally good relationship with all members of staff at the health centre" and he questions whether that relationship is "going to be in jeopardy, and the facilities I can expect, with the new proposals?"

The current GPs will continue until the end of the year, with another provider until the end of March. By then the NHS Integrated Care Board hopes to have found a new provider.

It stresses that it is committed to ensuring patients have high-quality GP services.

A spokesperson for Lancashire and South Cumbria ICB said: “Dr Ward, Dr Davies and Dr Cook (the GP partners) have not taken this decision lightly and are working with Lancashire and South Cumbria ICB to ensure there is a smooth transition....As this process is likely to take some time, we will appoint a provider to take over the running of the practice on an interim basis. 

"The ICB is committed to ensuring that all patients within Lancashire and South Cumbria continue to have access to high quality General Practice services.”

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