Earlier this year we helped Brockwell Medical Group to hear from patients their thoughts on the proposal to relocate Brockwell surgery to a new build located on the site of the Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital. We held three online forums during February and March 2022 for patients and residents.
Pauline Ironside, Business Lead from Valens Medical Partnership and Dr Aamir Munir from the surgery were at the sessions to provide an overview of the proposal and answer any questions. Jen Coe from Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group Engagement also attended and Shari Kelly from Valens Medical Partnership joined us for one of the online sessions.
Feedback on the proposed relocation
In total eight people came to the forums and all were patients of Brockwell Surgery. We also received some feedback via social media, email and telephone. A summary of the areas of feedback we recieved are outlined below.
1. Travel to the new surgery
One of the primary concerns we heard was around travelling to the new site for appointments, particularly as public transport did not appear to be readily available and taxis would be expensive. Concerns tended to be for elderly people or others who may be unable to drive. One person mentioned her elderly parents could rely on her for lifts, but others would not necessarily have that same family network. Another person said that she was currently unable to drive due to a health issue and would struggle to get to the new site.
There was a general feeling that the current surgery was a ‘community’ facility serving its patient location and demographic well and that a move would detract from that. A query was raised about whether a postcode analysis of current patients had been completed. Two people mentioned that the current site was walking distance for them. However, we also heard from one person that the new proposed site was closer to travel to and a suggestion that this would also be the case for others.
Related travel concerns and questions are outlined below:
- Alternative options to proposed move
There was some acceptance about the need for improved premises and services, but a question was raised by two people about whether expansion on the current site was possible as an alternative and another two people about whether the current surgery could be kept open as a ‘branch’ surgery alongside the new proposed site.
- Environmental and cost implications
Due to the observation that most patients would likely have to travel further to access the new site a concern was raised at one forum and via social media about the environmental impact of people having to drive to appointments who are usually able to walk. Alongside the concern about taxis being expensive for those who cannot drive, the costs of public transport for those who could use it to get to the new site and increased petrol costs for those driving to the new site were also raised.
- Alternative transport options
There was general support for the proposal of a free transport solution in partnership with Age UK Northumberland. We heard that this would not only be for the elderly community but also younger patients who were struggling with transport to the new site. However, there was a concern raised about ensuring the transport available was safe and accessible for frail elderly people who may not be able to step up into a mini-bus or be safely seated before it moved away. One person told us that her autistic son who is also non-verbal potentially may struggle with this type of transport solution.
There was also a concern that any transport solution should be sustainable, and a query was raised as to how this would be and continue to be funded in the future particularly given Age UK’s charitable status.
2. Parking concerns
Another primary concern raised in relation to the new site was around parking. Several queries were raised about whether this would be free parking and there were concerns around how parking would be managed at the new site and if hospital patients would be prevented from using it. We did however, also receive feedback from someone at a forum and another via social media about the difficulties parking at the current site and how the new site could improve parking concerns.
The engagement process
There was some concern raised about the engagement process itself following unexpected delays in patient letters being received. However, it is noted that some more online sessions were arranged and the survey date extended due to this delay.
Concerns were raised about ensuring the voices of those who may be digitally excluded, whose first language is not English, and those with protected characteristics were heard as part of the engagement process. We also had a suggestion from one person that the survey appeared biased in favour of the proposal, and another was concerned that the proposal was like a move proposed several years ago and therefore felt contributions made from patients as part of that process should also be considered. A few people were keen to understand whether the proposal was a ‘done deal’ regardless of patient views.
We received a couple of comments that the move appeared more beneficial to staff than to patients and a related query about whether there were financial incentives for medical partners for the move.
We also heard a query around pharmacy services and whether these would remain at the current site or move to the new site, showing a potential concern about disruption to services.
The feedback we received about the proposed relocation centered mainly around two key issues which were travel to the site, particularly for those who do not drive, and concerns about parking. Due to these concerns people were keen to know if other options closer to the current site had been considered or whether some provision could also remain at the current site should the move go ahead.
- Ensure continued meaningful engagement on the proposal if approved. For example, develop and deliver a communications plan with patient representatives that provides regular updates to all patients, highlights when key milestones are reached/achieved and identifies when and how feedback will be sought on key issues.
- Given the queries received about whether the current site could instead be expanded, further information should be included in the FAQs about the reasons that this is not possible, to improve transparency and patient confidence in the process.
- Whilst alternatives to travel to the site for those who do not drive are being considered, these options need to be both transparent and viable and communicated fully to patients to help alleviate concerns. Information about available bus routes should ideally be published or at least be offered to affected patients prior to any agreement on the proposal to allow for further feedback. At a minimum this could be via a Traveline ‘plan your journey’ link on the website. A travel impact assessment focusing on those with protected characteristics under the Equality Act should be completed, including an Environmental Impact Assessment.
- Should the proposal go ahead, parking solutions at the new site should be fully and clearly communicated to visiting patients.
- Given potential difficulties in travel, further consideration should be given to how multiple frequent surgery visits within one day would be managed, for example, stool and urine sampling cases.
June 2022: Brockwell Surgery relocation approved
The Brockwell Surgery relocation has now been approved. The practice was given the final approval at NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group’s Primary Care Commissioning Committee held in May 2022. You can read more about the move at Valens Medical Partnership’s website.