Alok Sharma, the Member of Parliament for Reading West, has today launched a Health Petition at Grovelands Medical Centre calling on Reading Borough Council to spend without delay, money previously earmarked for a new medical centre in the West Village development, on expanding GP services and improving local healthcare facilities.
Alok Sharma joined Natasha O'Brien, Chair of West Village Residents’ Association and Chris Maude, Practice Manager at Grovelands Medical Centre to launch the petition to be signed by concerned patients and local residents.
In 2006 Reading PCT signed a section 106 agreement with building developers, which agreed to sell land to developers in exchange for a shell and core building for housing a Health and Well Being Centre on the Oxford Road, at the site of the former Battle Hospital. However, plans for the centre were cancelled in December 2011, following the opening of the Reading Walk-In Centre in the Broad Street Mall.
Despite the decision to cancel the new centre on the Oxford Road, NHS Berkshire and local Clinical Commissioning Group leaders expressed recognition of the fact that GP practices within the locality need help to improve their premises to enable them to provide more services to patients and agreed to work with Reading Borough Council to find an appropriate way to spend the section 106 money for the benefit of health services in the local area.
In December, Alok wrote to Dave Peasley, Director and Council Manager at Reading Borough Council to seek assurances about how Section 106 money due to be paid by property developers David Wilson Homes in January will be spent.
However, in the Council’s response, Mr Peasley said: “...when the financial contribution is made to the Council, it must be used for “Community-related benefits”, which you will appreciate, could be applied to a wide range of essential community-related infrastructure. Given the competing demands on such funding and the current restraints in public sector finance, it is only right that the Council properly consider its use in the wider community context.”
Natasha O’Brien, Chair of West Village Residents’ Association said: “This is disgusting news and a huge disappointment. Public consultation told the Council they wanted better health care provision in Battle Ward. I understand that building another health centre is overkill but this money should go towards Battle residents who have health care requirements and not disappear-it into a hole of debt.”
Chris Maude, Practice Manager at Grovelands Medical Centre, said: “There has been no consultation whatsoever by the PCT or Reading Council with GP practices regarding their intent to divert the S106 monies to “community-related benefits” in lieu of the Battle Health Centre. It appears from Mr. Peasley’s letter that the PCT did that deal with Reading Council and if so, they did not consult us about it. That would be a clear breach of the PCT’s responsibility to consult with practices and their patients. However the fact is that last year the PCT did consult with local practices about using the S106 monies to fund expansion of the practices in lieu of the Health Centre, so clearly, Mr. Peasley’s letter does not make sense in that context.”
Alok Sharma said: “On the one hand, we have had Labour councillors calling the cancellation of the new health centre ‘a betrayal’ and on the other hand they are already back-tracking and preparing the ground to use this money to fill other cracks in their budget.”
Alok continued: “Residents were promised that this money would be used for the benefit of health services in the local area and so they will be extremely upset to learn that the Council has reversed this commitment at this late stage and that is why we are launching this petition.”
The new petition reflects recognition by NHS Berkshire and local Commissioning Group leaders that local GP practices need help to expand their premises to enable them to provide more services.
The wording of the petition, which can also be completed online at www.aloksharma.co.uk/health_petition, reads:
“We the undersigned call upon Reading Borough Council to honour its previous commitment to spend without delay the approximately £ 1.5 million it is receiving in Section 106 monies from David Wilson Homes, in respect of the West Village development, on improving local healthcare facilities including funding the expansion of local GP surgeries.”
Alok Sharma said: “This is a large sum of money that could go a long way to help local GP services expand and improve services they can offer to patients. Given the large number of building developments that have been approved in the local area there is a need for expansion to prevent GP surgeries from coming under any further pressure.”
Alok continued: “It is very important given the cancellation of the proposed new health centre, that the Section 106 monies are used to provide incremental improvements to services for patients and are not just used to fill other areas in the council’s budget or for routine improvements to surgeries.”
Natasha O'Brien, Chair of West Village Residents’ Association said: “As a resident of Battle Ward and a patient of Grovelands Medical Centre I expect the 106 agreement to be fulfilled. Public consultation had already occurred back when the planning permission was approved so the promised money should be passed onto the local NHS provision as soon as it is released. It can take 2-3 weeks to wait for a routine appointment with my own doctor and with hundreds of new families moving to the area. I would feel very let down should the money ‘disappear’. It belongs to us.”
Chris Maude, Practice Manager at Grovelands Medical Centre said: “This issue is crucial to the health and wellbeing of patients living in the area, given that a local health facility was always intended following the closure of Battle Hospital. Add to that the significant rise in population growth in recent years, extra community-based health services are essential, and should be committed to without further delay, given the significant investment of time in meetings and discussions with the PCT over more than 7 years.”
Photo: Alok at Grovelands Medical Centre launching the Health Petition with Natasha O'Brien, Chris Maude and local Battle ward resident Imraan Ishtiaq