‘Are Biggleswade health services at breaking point?’

Residents and councillors are demanding answers from Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (BCCG) following claims that healthcare in Biggleswade is “at breaking point”.

Concerns are being raised about how Biggleswade’s two surgeries – Saffron Health Partnership and Ivel Medical Centre – will cope with the thousands of new homes planned, as residents already claim that appointment waiting times are too long.

Ivel Medical Centre. Photo: Google

Ivel Medical Centre. Photo: Google

Cllr Dr Hayley Whitaker, of Central Bedfordshire Council, claimed: “Patients are easily waiting several weeks for a GP appointment and people who have phoned up to book basic cancer screening tests are waiting months.

“Ivel Medical Centre closed its books [to new patients] in mid-December and reopened them on January 13, because a lot of staff left at the same time. They have managed to recruit new people but it does suggest it’s at operational risk.”

At CBC’s full council meeting on January 16, Cllr Whitaker raised these concerns and claimed that Biggleswade was “rapidly reaching breaking point”.  

Leader of Central Bedfordshire Council, Cllr James Jamieson, said: “We are all tremendously concerned about the lack of GPs in Central Bedfordshire and the real need for the NHS to step up to the plate.

“It isn’t a Biggleswade issue, it isn’t a Dunstable issue, it is a Central Bedfordshire, and frankly, a wider issue, and we do need more. That’s why we have taken a proactive approach to try and do something, despite the fact that it’s not our responsibility.”

Cllr Tracey Stock, of Sandy ward, invited Cllr Whitaker to attend a Primary Care Members Briefing.

Although unable to attend, Cllr Whitaker will submit two questions, one about the immediate need for access to GPs and the other about what will happen regarding the needs of new home owners, arguing that many properties will be built before the arrival of Biggleswade’s Health Hub.

A commissioning group spokesman said: “Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group works closely with Central Bedfordshire Council to align planning for primary care services with plans for housing growth.

“The CCG and council have a joint plan to develop an Integrated Health and Care Hub in Biggleswade by 2023 which is expected to provide the additional capacity needed in the area. We would like to reassure patients that the GP practices in Biggleswade are within the top 25 per cent of practices in Bedfordshire for cancer screening and we have not been made aware of delays in screening.

“In addition both Biggleswade practices were rated above the National Average for overall patient experience in the 2019 GP Patient Survey.

“The recent closure of new registrations at Ivel Medical Centre in Biggleswade was not related to a lack of space within the GP practice, nor a lack of clinical staff.

“A number of members of administrative staff left the practice within a short space of time which had an operational impact.

“The CCG agreed that the practice could temporarily close their list to new patient registrations whilst they recruited new team members. The practice reopened its registration in early January.

“BCCG continues to commission and fund additional capacity across primary care services. This includes routine appointments at evenings and weekends together with improved access to out of hours and urgent care services via NHS111.

“Patients will also start to see practices working more closely together, delivering some services in partnership to further improve access.

“This will include more healthcare professionals such as clinical pharmacists, physiotherapists and paramedics working alongside GP’s, ensuring patients receive the most appropriate care as soon as possible.”

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