As part of the campaign to save Queen’s Road Medical Centre (QRMC), over 200 people turned out for a public meeting held at Leicester University last Thursday.
The closure of QRMC was announced in January when residents of Knighton were sent a letter (mis)informing them that their local GP, Dr Lenten, wanted to take early retirement. Dr Lenten, however, explained that the decision had been made because “[t]he workload has reached an unsustainable level and access to funding is becoming more and more difficult for practices set up like ours in the traditional way.”
Of the 2,500 patients formerly on the surgery’s list, 682 have now (understandably) registered with new doctors. But some have remained firm, refusing to accept the closure of the QRMC without a fight.
The meeting was called by a campaign group in the Knighton area, which includes members of Leicester Socialist Students, after a farcical event two weeks prior when the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), the body responsible for planning and paying for local health services, left 150 people out in the cold.
Hundreds of residents were shut out of the first CCG meeting on Thursday February 11 due to the CCG underestimating public opposition
But aside from the fact that everyone got inside, the outcome of the second meeting was little different. One attendee described it as “like banging your head against a brick wall”.
From the outset, the CCG claimed that the decision to close QRMC had already been made, and advised the audience to apply for to other GPs across the city: “This meeting is not a consultation”, they stressed.
Campaigners were understandably furious that this decision had been made behind closed doors, and demanded that the CCG consider alternative solutions which would see the practice saved.
In addition to this, some audience members pointed out that it was not as simple as registering elsewhere because health services across the city are already functioning beyond capacity.
One even reported that they were quizzed on what medical conditions they suffered before being allowed to register at another practice – surely a sign that surgeries are being stretched to breaking point.
Perhaps one of the more constructive outcomes of the meeting was Dr Bentley’s (Chair of North East Leicester CCG) admission that the main reason the CCG are unable to intervene to save the QRMC is because of a chronic “lack of funding” from central government.
When quizzed about what can be done to remedy this, Dr Bentley suggested that the residents of Knighton should lobby their local MP to raise the issue in parliament.
This is an important point because it poses the question of political representation – i.e. just how much will our local MP and city council fight to protect our services.
Austerity and Leicester City Council
Partly as a result of the campaign to save QRMC, Deputy City Mayor and Chairman of Leicester’s Health and Wellbeing Board Councillor Rory Palmer has recently come out with a plan to increase the number of GPs across the city by calling a summit this spring involving the movers and the shakers from the Department of Health.
In an article for the Leicester Mercury on February 14th, Cllr Palmer states:
Recruiting and retaining more GPs in Leicester and building a sustainable and viable primary care system in the city is a major priority.
There is already a lot of work happening to address this challenge but it is important a fuller conversation takes place including with patients.
And yet, just ten days after making this statement, Cllr Palmer, along with the rest of Labour council, voted unanimously in favour of a further £45million worth of cuts to public services across Leicester.
Labour councillors will claim that the money cut from public services comes from a separate pot from that which funds local GPs, and that the issues are therefore separate; but in reality the removal of vital public services across the city will place greater stresses on health professionals.
Researchers at the NHS have long-recognized the correlation between poverty and poor health.
According to a report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), Leicester is already the poorest city in the country, with an average gross disposable household income (GDHI) estimated to be a paltry £11,739 per year (compare with the £43,577 for residents in Westminster).
The axing of yet more public services will inevitably contribute to a further deterioration in living standards, and further burdens upon primary care.
Moreover, the fact that Labour councillors have been totally unwilling to fight back against council cuts means that we should be wary of placing too much faith in Cllr Palmer’s health summit. How can we trust Leicester councillors to protect our health services when they have already accepted the inevitability of austerity?
Nevertheless, campaigners in Leicester can take comfort from the fact that public pressure recently forced the Labour Council into making a U-turn on fire service cuts. This should provide a valuable lesson to those hoping to save the QRMC.
The GP Crisis, Nationally.
Following the recent closure of The Maples Surgery in Evington, the plan to shut the doors of QRMC indicates a growing city-wide crisis in the provision of primary healthcare. Just last year, Dr Hewitt, the chief executive of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland local medical committee (LMC), explained how services are already stretched to breaking point: “Many GP partners and salaried GPs in our area often work 12 to 14 hours a day.”
But developments in Leicester are also indicative of wider problems. Across the country, GPs undertake 90% of patient contact that takes place in the NHS. Although we are constantly told that more services have to be, and are, provided in the community, funding for GPs has fallen from 11% of the NHS budget to a historic low of 8.39%.
In addition to more work being piled onto general practice, there are now fewer GPs to do it.
The Royal College of General Practitioners has estimated an extra 9,540 GPs are needed nationally to cope with the demands of a growing and ageing population with more complex health needs. Yet burnout means a third of GPs say they want to retire in the next five years according to a BMA survey.
Austerity, whether in health service funding or the provision of public services, is a political choice, not an economic necessity. Even the conservative International Monetary Fund (IMF) now agrees that the global financial crisis will not be mitigated by reducing public spending.
What is clear is that the only way that this crisis in care provision can be reversed is if the people of Leicester unite and demand that our city (and the rest of the country) be provided with the funding we need to run the NHS.
At this stage, this means putting massive public pressure on our local council and MPs, and linking up with other ongoing struggles within the NHS.
Locally, an effective way of doing this might be to call a city-wide demonstration to coincide with one of the Junior Doctors’ strikes on March 9, April 6, and April 26.
By Leicester Socialist Students
 It is perhaps unsurprising that the CCG were unable (or unwilling) to respond adequately to these important issues; as the Health Service Journal (HSJ) has so persistently pointed out: the CCG is not a neutral body. In September last year a Verita report revealed that an employee of Barnet CCG was sacked for blowing the whistle on institutional malpractices. Far from being an isolated case, the report also goes on to state that, given the structure of the CCG, “it would be surprising if the issues [of corruption] faced in Barnet were not widely replicated across the country.”
 This passivity is perhaps best summed up by Cllr Lucy Chaplin, who was in attendance at the second meeting to save the QRMC. When asked about why she voted in favour of the cuts, she stated: “I can’t fight the cuts because I do not want to lose my job… I think I have a stronger voice inside the Labour Party than I do outside.”