Two Margate councillors have raised concerns that a planned health and well-being hub is being created in an area that is inaccessible to many of the residents it will be serving.
Samestone Ward councillors Pauline Farrance and Candy Gregory say plans for the hub to be sited at Bethesda Medical Centre in Palm Bay are flawed and a more central location in Margate or even Westwood would be easier to reach for patients at The Limes, Northdown and Mocketts Wood surgeries.
The hub was agreed through the Margate and Mocketts Wood Primary Care Network which includes all four surgeries.
Bethesda has received planning permission for a two storey extension to provide 14 consulting rooms, a clinical pharmacy, health promotion room, administration room, waiting areas, toilets, storage rooms and lift, together with an additional 14 vehicle parking spaces.
The application is a reduction of the original £6.5million plan – approved in 2018 – which included the use of the former coach park to provide an extra 48 parking spaces.
The coach park has now been withdrawn from the plans. A second GP provision phase is currently being planned by health bosses to address the future increase in patients in 2029 and beyond.
But Cllr Gregory says the Palm Bay site is not accessible for a large number of patients.
She said: “The new ‘hub’ is supposed to serve all these people but it is on the very edge of the area it is designed to serve. It will be very hard to get to if you don’t have a car.”
Cllr Farrance added: “The residents I represent in Salmestone (which stretches to Westwood) would be particularly disadvantaged due to the lack of bus service and a very long walk.
“And doesn’t the word ‘hub’ mean that it should be located centrally, giving all Margate residents equal access? Wouldn’t a hub in Margate central or Westwood be more practical?”
Cllr Gregory said the areas to be served are in the top 10% of the most deprived in the country, with Margate Central taking 67th place out of 32884 nationally, and second out of 902 in Kent.
She said: “The areas the new centre should serve are mainly poor areas. Salmestone is a relatively deprived area, and Margate has among top 10% of deprived wards in England and Wales. Car ownership is low. The new ‘hub’ would be in completely the wrong spot for most of these people.”
Cllr Farrance fears that ultimately the new centre will be used to replace existing GP surgeries. She said: “They’ve told me there are no plans for the centre to replace any of our GP surgeries, but I’m sceptical. Once it’s up and running I think it’s going to inevitably swallow up some of our existing medical practices making it even harder for people who will have to travel for their care.
“When you look beyond the hype, this kind of a centre is like a medical supermarket and we all know what supermarkets do to local shops.”
Ms Farrance also fears the consultation process is not wide enough.
She said: “In theory they’re still consulting over the centre, but at a meeting of the Primary Care Commissioning Committee of the Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group I attended recently I was shocked and surprised to see a paper which says it’s going ahead. It all smacks of the whole thing being pushed through before anyone can object.”
The councillors say a better solution would be an extension at The Limes or a hub at Westwood.
Cllr Gregory said: “When the Limes was built in 2004, it was with the provision that there was space for further extension. However, this has not been considered by the local Clinical Commissioning Group.”
A Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group spokesperson said: “Bethesda Medical Centre is being extended and refurbished to accommodate the increase in the number of patients now registered at the practice. This will enable the practice to continue to provide high-quality care. Patients have been involved with this process and have been able to comment on this proposal.
“There are no plans to relocate any other Thanet practice into the extended building and nor are there any merger plans for any GP practice in the Thanet area currently.
“In addition to that extension to the practice the Margate Primary Care Network are developing plans, that are in the early stages, for a health and wellbeing centre at the practice.
“Bethesda Medical Centre, The Limes Medical Practice, Northdown Surgery and Mocketts Wood Surgery work together in a primary care network, and are engaging with local people to finalise details of the health and wellbeing centre. The surgeries recently sent a questionnaire to their patients and have already received over 1,500 replies.
“This is a really exciting opportunity to look beyond just treating people who are ill, and to look towards helping residents address lifestyle choices and other determinants of health so they can live happier and healthier lives.”