Withnell Health Centre GP ‘humbled’ by public support to keep control of practice

Posted on - 23rd April, 2024 - 8:00am | Author - | Posted in - Chorley News, Health, Preston News, South Ribble News, Withnell & Brinscall
Withnell Health Centre
Withnell Health Centre

A Chorley GP says she has been humbled after her patients raised £4,000 in the space of just four days to secure the specialist support they hope will help her keep control of her practice.

As the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) has documented, Dr. Ann Robinson has been battling for more than two years to continue running Withnell Health Centre.

She has been at the helm of the Railway Road surgery for just over a decade, but had to bid to remain as the lead GP after a previous partnership was dissolved in late 2021.

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Dr. Robinson initially lost out to a conglomerate that runs more than 40 GP practices across the North West, but after uproar from locals – and an admission from NHS bosses that the process had been deficient for not properly consulting patients – she was handed a reprieve while the health service went back to the drawing board.

While she hoped to be awarded the contract without a new competition, the Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care Board (ICS) last month said procurement rules meant that it would have to launch a fresh bidding process.

In response, a campaign group established to keep Dr. Robinson in post launched a crowdfunder to enable her to employ an expert bid writer – and give her the best chance of being successful second time around.

“It has been absolutely heartwarming – people’s generosity was genuinely humbling,” the popular GP told the LDRS.

“It also shows the massive strength of feeling that people who haven’t got a lot of money during a cost-of-living crisis are willing to donate like this – and we are just so grateful for the support.”

Dr. Robinson was defeated by just three-and-a-half marks out of a 75-mark assessment in the original procurement – something she regards as an achievement having completed the process largely single-handedly.

She is hopeful that a combination of the specialist help funded by her patients and a commitment by the ICB to consider patient feedback as part of the bids will get her pitch across the line first.

“We still don’t know what the exact questions will be, but the bid writer can help us refine our answers.

“[Last time] there was no section to say what your patient satisfaction scores were and how you were delivering care.

“There were some questions about how you planned to deliver care, but [no] actual measurements of how you were performing [at that point].

“It seemed a very strange system, because in your bid you could say ‘I’m going to deliver the world’,” Dr. Robinson said.

Last year, the practice achieved a 97 percent satisfaction rating in the GP patient survey.

Save Withnell Health Centre campaigner Louise France, who set up the crowdfunder earlier this month, said she wanted to say “an enormous thank you” to the more than 100 people who helped reach the target amount so quickly.

“It just goes to show what can be achieved when a community comes together to support something that’s close to their heart.

“Whilst I am incredibly disappointed by the ICB’s decision to use the procurement method rather than directly awarding the 15-year contract to Dr Robinson, I am hopeful that with the help of the professional bid writer, Dr Robinson’s bid will prove successful in October – and we will be able to keep the incredible NHS staff that we currently have running Withnell Health Centre,” Louise added.

In a statement issued immediately after the decision to undertake a competitive tender for the surgery contact, ICB chief operating officer Professor Craig Harris said: “Based on consideration of all procurement routes and the associated published guidance, we believe that this is the option which will give the quickest route to securing the best outcome for Withnell Health Centre and its patients and staff.

“The ICB has engaged widely with the local population and the feedback will make a valuable contribution to the competitive procedure.

“We recognise the concern within the community and the potential impact on staff and patients – and this decision provides an opportunity for a potentially quicker resolution within the timeframes we have set out, while ensuring we follow due process for equity and fairness,” Professor Harris added.

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