Talks to save two GP surgeries at risk of closure in Moray branded a ‘mere tickbox exercise’

webnexttech | Talks to save two GP surgeries at risk of closure in Moray branded a ‘mere tickbox exercise’

A public consultation over the planned closure of two GP surgeries in Moray was a “mere tickbox exercise”, according to campaigners. They say internal emails obtained under freedom of information legislation reveal that plans for the closures were being discussed as early as June 2021 – months before public consultations began. The FOI request – made by The Northern Scot newspaper – also showed health chiefs offered guidance on how to avoid a community backlash about the proposals. Campaigners say they will continue their quest to have their local GP services reinstated. Doctors’ surgeries in Burghead and Hopeman failed to reopen after closing down during the coronavirus pandemic, leaving many patients forced to make difficult journeys to a centralised health centre in Lossiemouth. Objectors say the internal emails revealed in the FOI request spell out a “done deal” about the surgeries’ future prior to a public consultation. Messages between Health and Social Care Moray, the region’s health board, and Moray Council focused on guidance to Moray Coast Medical Practice on how to avoid a community backlash – and a consultation did not materialise for months. The Save Our Surgeries group accused the health and social care partnership of “ignoring the voices of our communities” with 85% of the local communities voting to keep the clinics open. The group urges the health and social care partnership to “step up and do the right thing as a matter of urgency.” A statement to STV News read: “This FOI document confirms clearly the intent to lead the consultation to the direction they want. “It is a mere tickbox exercise, to make people believe that they were engaging and consulting the communities. “They should have listened. These communities have been wronged and misled for long enough.” Ness Tunggal of the Save Our Surgeries campaign said: “Things were done in the wrong way. There is still a chance for them to rectify and correct it for our communities. “We do not need another ‘Mr Bates versus the Post Office’ to make things happen. “The FOI clearly confirms there had been an intention to lead the consultation to the direction they wanted it to. “The sad fact here is when such direction is not achieved, instead of stopping and listening to what people are saying, they ignored and carried on anyway. “It looks liked everything goes back to the same document, with the same intention, to pretend they are engaging and consulting with people. But the final goal has already been decided five years ago.” Betty Slater, a 92-year-old Hopeman resident, said: “It’s been devastating, really. It’s so difficult to get an appointment at the doctors and, of course, you need transport to go to Lossie. It makes things quite difficult.” The campaigners have raised their concerns with local politicians, including a visit to Holyrood, and have gained cross-party support. Moray MP Douglas Ross said: “They deserve an apology from the health board and Health and Social Care Moray for the way they conducted this consultation and their engagement with the community when, really, they had already made up their minds and weren’t interested in what the community had to say.” In a statement, Health and Social Care Moray said: “We consider the documents released in response to the freedom of information request show our genuine efforts to follow best practice in relation to the engagement and consultation process. “This includes the learning points identified by a neighbouring Health and Social Care Partnership around the closure of a branch surgery. This was discussed openly with the steering group of community representatives and practitioners who advised on the engagement and consultation process. “An independent review of our approach to engagement and consultation has already been carried out at the request of the Scottish Government and we look forward to the publication of the final report and any recommendations made. “We continue to seek to work constructively with SOS group through our locality planning process to achieve improved health and wellbeing for our communities.”

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