GPs' fears for Norfolk NHS revealed

The fears of family doctors about the state of the NHS in Norfolk are revealed today by a ground-breaking survey of GPs. Many GPs are opposed to planned closures of cottage hospitals and community beds and changes to out-of-hours contracts.

The fears of family doctors about the state of the NHS in Norfolk were revealed yesterday by a ground-breaking survey of GPs.

Many GPs are opposed to planned closures of cottage hospitals and community beds and changes to out-of-hours contracts. They also doubt the ability of Norfolk Primary Care Trust (PCT) to clear its major deficit.

About 200 family doctors in rural parts of central and north Norfolk and within the city of Norwich were asked for their opinions - more than one third responded.

And the survey, carried out by the Liberal Democrats, highlights a growing rift between GPs and the PCT - particularly over the trust's plans to close some community hospitals in Norfolk, reduce community beds from 201 to 158 and create a specialist stroke unit at Dereham.

While campaigners' concerns about the proposals are being aired at public meetings organised by the PCT, GPs feel they are not being fully consulted.

The survey saw some GPs describe the consultation process as "a farce," accuse the PCT of "going through the motions" and warn that the outcome is a "foregone conclusion".

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But the PCT said it continued to work closely with GPs on the plan.

One doctor said: "I believe the closure of community beds to be a disaster for the NHS - there will be even more pressure on beds."

In the survey, 93pc of GPs said they did not support proposals. And 99pc said they were concerned about possible reductions to the specifications for the new GP out-of-hours (OOH) contract.

Seventy-four per cent believed East of England Ambulance Service subsidiary Anglian Medical Care - which runs the service in Norfolk - was providing a good quality service, though 19pc said they did not feel that was the case.

And 84pc said they would be concerned if the OOH contract was won by a

private company from

outside of Norfolk.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, who is the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: "We have not really heard the GP voice clearly expressed until now but this is a very powerful statement from the GPs collectively about their view of the situation in Norfolk, their view of the PCT and their views of the threat to our community hospitals."

Doctors were also asked whether they expected PCT to be able to clear its deficit - now forecast to have risen from £47m to £49m - by March 2008. Of GPs asked, 94pc said no, 1pc said they thought it was possible and 4pc answered "don't know." A number felt care and patient services would be affected by clearing such a high debt so swiftly.

A Norfolk PCT spokesman said: "We are not aware of this survey, so are unable to comment in any detail. However, we are working very closely with GPs regarding both our proposals for intermediate care and our changes in specification for the Out of Hours service."