Campaigners defend ‘exceptional’ Redbridge GP surgery as NHS plans to cut funding

Campaigners in Redbridge have hit back at NHS plans to slash funding for a local GP practice.

Funding for Aldersbrook Medical Centre in Wanstead is to be cut by around 10 per cent, making the future unviable for current provider Richmond Road Medical Centre.

Richmond, which has held the contract since 2019, will leave Aldersbrook at the end of June and the NHS integrated care board (ICB) for north-east London will now “test the market,” a representative has said.

It expects to appoint a ‘caretaker’ provider by the end of June, which will manage the practice – at an increased cost – for around eight months while a replacement is found.

But members of the patient participation group fear losing out on quality provision, despite the ICB’s reassurances it will maintain a high standard of care.

Addressing Redbridge Council’s health scrutiny committee meeting on Monday (March 25), campaigner Terilla Bernard challenged the notion that patients “are supposed to accept a lower standard of care on the basis of ‘reduced funding’”.

She said Richmond Road offers an “excellent” service for its 4,700 patients at Aldersbrook and one that had improved over the past five years, adding that it should be seen as a “basic standard” for NHS care rather than a “luxury”.

In its most recent inspection in 2022, the practice was given the overall rating of “good” by the Care Quality Commission.

Fellow campaigner Jane Batey, one of 23 residents in attendance, said: “The budget difference is small.

“With all the disruption of getting a new provider, the development work and outstanding clinical leadership will be blown away. It will take two or three years to recoup.

“What the ICB should instead be saying is that this is a standard-bearer practice.

“Richmond Road has reduced admissions to A&E and to hospital – that must have saved [the proposed reduction of] £90,000 in the budget cycle.”

Terilla added: “We appreciate the NHS is strapped but patients’ needs should come first.”

Councillor Sheila Bain, who covers the centre as a representative for the Wanstead Park ward, raised similar concerns.

She said: “Funding has been the issue all along, but now here we are. There’s no shortage of funding when going out looking for caretaking service.”

She asked the ICB to provide reassurances that patients’ experiences would not change, having received worried emails from residents “of all ages”.

The Labour councillor added: “The ICB’s remit is addressing inequalities in northeast London’s health system, not worsening them.”

The representative for the ICB said patients would continue to see the same GPs and welcomed the positive feedback about the quality of care, but the finer details depended on the appointment of a successor.

She said it was “unfortunate” that Richmond would depart Aldersbrook in June and that the ICB had offered to extend its stay until September. The management had declined in order to move its staff over, she added.

Campaign spokesperson Paul Wildish told the Local Democracy Reporting Service the meeting, which lasted around 45 minutes, had been “positive”.

Though the group had been “disappointed before,” he said it was a good sign that councillors supported their plight.

He added: “We don’t consider the public support the be all and end all, but nevertheless, we expect support and so far they have shown it – so that’s a plus.”

He said the independent group would not “give up at all,” and would “closely monitor” Richmond Road’s replacement.

So far, 21 practices have reportedly shown interest in taking on Aldersbrook.

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Sebastian Mann

Local democracy reporter