NO DOCTORS are willing to open a GP branch surgery in what has been described as the largest village in Wales, it has been claimed.
The Belmont GP Surgery which serves Gilwern near Abergavenny announced its intention to close at the beginning of this year.
Since then a petition, signed by 426 people, has been collected calling for new arrangements to be put in place and Monmouthshire County Council was last week told a project plan to create a potential health and wellbeing hub that could provide GP services for two days a week should be established.
But that idea was dismissed by the full council when it was put forward by Gobion Fawr Conservative councillor Alistair Neil.
He criticised the response of Gwent’s Aneurin Beavan Health Board to the decision of the current surgery, which is a branch of the Crickhowell GP Practice, to withdraw and said the county council should require its cabinet member for “social care and accessible health services” to bring forward a plan to safeguard GP services.
Cllr Neil said Gilwern and its surrounding villages has a population of more than 7,000 residents but had been told by the Aneurin Bevan NHS body a “GP surgery is not viable for a population below 8,000.”
Poor transport links will, he said, make visiting GP’s further afield harder, and taxis to Crickhowell or Abergavenny could be a £40 return journey, which the councillor said would result in people not getting medical attention and adding to the burden on social care provided by the county council.
Putting a plan in place for Gilwern could be a “template for any further GP surgery closures in our county,” said Cllr Neil who urged others to support his motion adding: “If this can happen in the largest village in Wales it can happen anywhere in our county.”
But Cllr Ian Chandler, the cabinet member responsible, asked councillors to dismiss the motion as he said the council has been working with the NHS to respond to the situation that is a “clear and serious concern to residents”.
He said it was a “complex situation” as though Gilwern is in Monmouthshire the surgery is a branch surgery of the Crickhowell practice which comes under the responsibility of the Powys Local Health Board.
Cllr Chandler said: “In an ideal scenario another GP would take its place and open a branch surgery in Gilwern and extensive discussions have been held with Abergavenny and Brynmawr but none are willing to open a branch surgery in Gilwern.”
The councillor said Gilwern has a population slightly more than 3,000 with most of those registered with the Crickhowell practice but that a mitigation plan has been put in place with the health board including the availability of telephone services and the arrangements over home visits, emergency appointments and use of the pharmacy in Gilwern.
The councillor added assurances have also been provided that community transport schemes will have capacity to assist in patient transport.
The Green Party councillor also added that “providing GP services is the responsibility of the health board not the council” and said his Conservative colleague had been provided with copies of the plan but Cllr Neil said he was calling for a “project plan” while only a “mitigation plan” had been produced.
Council leader Mary Ann Brocklesby, who represents the Llanelly Hill ward which includes Gilwern, said she had been contacted by a number of “distressed people” but said as of last week only 69 of the surgery’s 3,100 patients had transferred to another GP.
The Labour councillor said though the official closing date has been pushed back to November the surgery has “never really reopened” since Covid and it has been “very difficult” for Crickhowell to staff it.
She also said the closure of Gilwern was “to do with the fact five GPs are all retiring and the building (the surgery) is their pension plan precisely because it was a private practice, we can argue whether they will be able to sell it or not, but it makes it very difficult for any other organisation to determine what to do with that building.”
The leader said the Abergavenny surgery wasn’t prepared to open a branch in Gilwern and it, and the North Monmouthshire GP cohort, “recognised finding a locum willing to work in a single way in a village, in Wales, in our health board at the moment, would be almost zero.”
She said the mitigation plan meant the the council and two health boards are committed to looking at ways of “keeping the door open” for a “well being centre” and said a GP surgery wasn’t in the council’s gift so it needed to look at transport as an area in which it coud assist.
Independent councillor for Llanelly Hill Simon Howarth said the surgery in Brynmawr is run by the Aneurin Bevan Health Board and questioned why it couldn’t provide a service in Gilwern: “Why can’t Aneurin Bevan place a locum in Gilwern for two days a week? I think the health board should seriously consider taking it forward.”
He added the council should “keep pushing” the two health boards on the issue.
The motion to direct the Cllr Chandler to draw up an action plan was defeated by 22 votes to 21 with the council’s Independent Group voting with the Conservatives in support of it.