Surgery decision hit by ‘irritating’ delays

Brenda Churchill, chairwoman of Deer Park Campaign Group

Campaigners fighting for their doctor’s surgery have been left ‘irritated’ by delays caused by next month’s snap general election.

Brenda Churchill, who is spearheading the campaign to save Witney’s Deer Park medical centre, was hoping to have had a decision on its future from health secretary Jeremy Hunt by now.

But she claims restrictions on reporting in the lead up to an election – known as ‘purdah’ – have led to a wall of silence.

She said: “We are not happy. We have spent the last six months waiting for people to sort themselves out and do something and again we are left waiting. It’s very irritating.”

The future of Deer Park, which officially closed at the end of March, is back in the hands of the Secretary of State after an independent panel returned its report on what services should be included in and around the area.

The panel, which can’t yet say what is in its report, confirmed to the Deer Park Campaign Group (DPCG) – formally known as the Patient Participation Group – that the report was sent to Mr Hunt before the June 8 election was called.

As a result, a final decision on the Edington Square surgery has been postponed until after the ballot.

Mrs Churchill, a town councillor, said: “At the moment we know the panel sent their report on April 11 but because Theresa May has called the general election it has gone quiet now and it will have to wait until after the election.

“We didn’t hear anything from Mr Hunt’s team. We’ve been in touch with Robert Courts [Witney MP] and nothing’s happened there either. It’s all to do with purdah and it’s all stopped.”

But Cllr Churchill, who was sworn in as deputy mayor of Witney last week, suggested the general election might bring a fresh approach to Deer Park’s closure.

She said: “We don’t know what’s going to happen because it might be a different Secretary of State.

“A new face might look at it better. Robert Courts has promised me that if he gets re-elected his first policy will be to go to the Secretary of State to say ‘hurry up, get this sorted out’.”

The DPCG said it expects an update within a week of the general election result. Cllr Churchill added “it’s important because they could say reopen it”.

At the start of the month around 800 former Deer Park patients were yet to sign up to a new surgery and, according to Cllr Churchill, those people are “waiting to see what happens” as they want to stay at Deer Park.

Oxfordshire County Councillor Liz Leffman, who is also standing as a Liberal Democrat candidate in Witney, shares Cllr Churchill’s frustrations.

She said: “It [the situation] is made worse by the fact that Deer Park patients are being advised to go to surgeries scattered over a wide geographical area including Carterton, Wychwood surgery in Shipton and even Charlbury.

“Plus, by its own admission, the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group has had great difficulty recruiting GPs across Oxfordshire.

“At the consultation a couple of months ago they said that they are seven GPs short in Witney alone, which only adds to the pressure.”

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