Three-year fight to save surgery is lost but transport offered to another practice

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Villagers in Rippingale have lost a three-year battle to save its surgery – but have been involved in groundbreaking negotiations to provide transport for patients to a neighbouring practice.

Discussions were taking place on Thursday to establish how the first transport scheme of its kind in the country would be organised to take patients to the New Springwells surgery in Billingborough – five miles away.

According to campaigners, formal notice of the surgery’s closure on March 31 was given in November – not allowing six months as originally thought.

This has been an additional blow for villagers, who also lost their school and only have limited access to a post office run from the local pub.

Many patients are elderly or disabled, with young families left stranded because they are single car owners and there is very limited public transport.

Mike Hallas, chairman of the Rippingale Parish Council ,said: “We have had a local surgery for 150 years and to be given four-and-a-half months notice of its closure is simply appalling. We have not had a single incident quoted to back up the contention that patient safety is at risk.

“Those grounds are tenuous in the extreme, as is the Lincolnshire Primary Care Trust’s refusal to let us see any documentation of their discussions.

“We believe it’s no coincidence the closure date matches that when PCTs cease to exist, rather than showing real care for patients and their democratic rights.

“We have not given up – we will continue to take the whole issue to higher levels and to investigate other options.”

The surgery at Rippingale is a satellite for the New Springwells practice and has more than 1,000 patients registered there.

Announcement of its closure comes in spite of two public consultations and two practices withdrawing interest in taking it over – one citing the long delay in the process as a reason.

But it wasn’t until October 2012 that the PCT wrote to say they had accepted New Springwells’ “clinical concerns” and that the surgery would close.

Mr Hallas said in the village’s January newsletter: “We are somewhat reconciled by the fact the surgery will have kept open for 3.5 years and at least we will have provided some safeguards for those patients unable to transport themselves to Billingborough.”

A spokesman for NHS Lincolnshire said: “The parish council was informed on September 26 last year of the board’s decision to close Rippingale branch surgery; giving six months’ notice to the planned closure on March 31.

“NHS Lincolnshire continues to work closely with the Parish Council and the GP practice to identify a solution around transport arrangements from Rippingale to The New Springwells Practice in Billingborough.”