Residents in area without GP surgery demand new practice

By Robert Firth, Local Democracy Reporter

Residents living in an area without an NHS surgery are going private to avoid hour-long phone queues and month-long waiting times to see a doctor.

The 16,000 people who call Forest Hill home have to trek to nearby areas like Sydenham, Dulwich and Perry Vale to see a doctor.

But residents say they are increasingly struggling to get hold of a GP, and complain of long waiting times and poor service.

They say the time has come for Forest Hill to finally get its own GP, which they believe will allow them to see a doctor more quickly, and take the pressure off existing nearby surgeries.

Ali Barnes, who moved into the area recently with her husband Philippe, said she was told she could not be seen for a month when she tried to book an appointment at one nearby surgery.

The experience was so bad the couple say they have given up on local surgeries altogether, and instead use Babylon Health, a service that lets people book and see a doctor on their phone, if they need a GP appointment.

Labour-run Lewisham council said it had agreed to ask the council’s health and well-being board to consider plans to increase the number of doctors in the area.

But the power to make this happen rests with the South East London Integrated Care Board, the body responsible for planning NHS services locally.

In the meantime, pressures on nearby GP surgeries are unlikely to ease. More than 200 new homes are expected to be built in Forest Hill in the coming years, and another 60 have recently been completed.

Staff at The Vale Medical Centre in Perry Vale, a 20-minute walk from Forest Hill, said the number of patients on its books had increased due to the area’s growing population.

Carolina Garcia, 43, who has used The Vale Medical Centre for nine years, said it was clear the practice was struggling to deal with the number of patients signing up.

She said: “I’ve been with them for nine years now and it has definitely got worse. I think we need one (another GP surgery). You can tell it’s oversubscribed.”

Chris Crouch, 59, said the pressure on GPs around Forest Hill was also being felt across the rest of the borough.

Mr Crouch, who is signed up to Morden Hill Surgery in Lewisham, said: “You have to ring at eight in the morning and you can wait up to an hour on the phone. You can get a same-day appointment but it takes that hour to get through.

“I think the area (Lewisham) definitely needs another surgery. We’ve got lots of new blocks with thousands of people and there’s no more allocation for doctors.”

A spokeswoman for South East London Integrated Care Board (ICB) said: “The South East London ICB is aware of concerns expressed by the Forest Hill Assembly at the lack of a GP Surgery within the ward boundaries.  This will be formally considered at the Lewisham Health and Wellbeing Board, which includes partners from across health and care in Lewisham.”

Pictured top: Carolina Garcia said it was obvious that her local surgery was oversubscribed (Picture: Robert Firth)

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