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Comment: Will the NHS Cope with the Ash and Tongham Population Boom?

Published on: 1 Nov, 2022
Updated on: 3 Nov, 2022

By David Reading

Are we heading for a primary healthcare crisis here in Ash and Tongham? In light of the present house-building boom and soaring population, it’s a fair question to ask.

People’s present experiences are largely anecdotal. Ask ten people about the quality of service they receive from their local surgery and you probably get ten varied replies.

Personally, I have nothing but praise for the Bartlett Group Practice in Ash Vale – in fact their attention to detail in 2017 probably saved my life. But some people you meet are less complimentary, complaining of communication problems and long wait times.

Whatever your experience, you may feel justified in believing that the situation cannot possibly improve. The approval of plans for more than 1,200 new homes over the past few years – many already occupied – means many more hundreds of people needing primary healthcare.

A solution seemed possible when Bewley Homes – the development company that was granted permission to build 481 homes at Ash Lodge Park – set aside a plot of land on the site for a new surgery.

This land was earmarked under a Section 106 legal agreement with Guildford Borough Council, a system that requires developers to secure benefits for the area where they are building.  This agreement lasts five years, until 2024.

In August 2021, Guildford Borough Council and Bewley Homes both gave assurances that land was still being safeguarded for a new healthcare centre to meet the rise in the local population.

But in June 2022 the NHS’s Frimley Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said it had no plans for a new primary care health centre in Ash, despite the fact that Bewley had set aside land for this purpose.

So what was planned instead?

The CCG, which is responsible for health services in the local area, said that instead of a new centre, it was working to expand and improve existing primary healthcare sites in the area. A statement said this would provide the capacity needed to meet the extra demand from the large increase in population.

The Frimley CCG area includes parts of Hampshire, and Berkshire as well as Ash, here in Surrey.

But no one – neither at the CCG or Guildford Borough Council – has been able to give us details of what the expansion and improvements involve.

At that time, in June, a CCG spokesperson said: “We’re working with the local group of GP practices (the Primary Care Network) to ensure there is enough capacity to meet the growing demand. While we are working on some improvements and expansions, the solution will not lie in individual changes to practices but to a network-wide approach involving the whole primary care community.”

Earlier this month we asked the CCG to elaborate. So far we have not received a response.

GBC said in June that some sort of healthcare facility could still go ahead on the land set aside by Bewley.

Cllr Julia McShane, now leader of the council, said: “We are currently in discussions with Bewley Homes about the possibility of providing a healthcare facility on the Ash Lodge Drive development.

Cllr Julia McShane

“If the provision of a healthcare facility is not possible, the S106 legal agreement, which was signed between us and Bewley Homes, allows for the option of using the land for a community facility instead. This will be investigated in due course, in accordance with the S106 legal agreement.”

Asked for a progress report four months later, in early October, a GBC statement said: “We have nothing to add to this at the moment.”

And a statement from the developers said: “Bewley Homes is continuing to pursue alternative uses after the NHS ruled itself out. The company is having on-going meetings with private health providers to find a suitable option.”

We turned next to Michael Gove, MP for Surrey Heath, and asked if he could shed any light on the matter.

His office told us in early October: “Michael raised the provision of health services in Ash with Fiona Edwards (chief executive of the CCG) at a meeting during the summer, and he has asked me to let you know that he has just written to her to follow-up on that conversation, requesting detailed information about meeting the increasing demand for services in the Ash area.”

Michael Gove MP

We have since asked Mr Gove’s office if there has been any progress. So far we have not received a reply. Nor have we received a reply from Frimley CCG.

As is often the case, you have to turn to social media for information. There is some evidence of progress on the Bartlett Group Practice Facebook page, where a post said on October 25:

“Building Work at Frimley Green: We’d like to update your on how our current building works are commencing. We’re now starting to now see the building go up and are looking forward to seeing the continued progress. This building work is to help us gain more capacity and space for consulting rooms, treatment rooms and phlebotomy. We thank you for your patience.”

Will that be enough to meet the huge rise in population? Can anyone reassure the public?

Recently I caught a glimpse of the present predicament when I telephoned my surgery in Ash Vale to ask for a routine appointment. A recorded voice told me there were more than 30 other patients waiting and I was in the queue. Isn’t that a sign that the local primary healthcare service is already under intense pressure?

 

 

 

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test 2 Responses to Comment: Will the NHS Cope with the Ash and Tongham Population Boom?

  1. Frances Porter Reply

    November 4, 2022 at 12:38 pm

    These things should be set in stone before any applications are given the green light.

    Exactly the problem at the proposed unsustainable “Wisley New Town”.

  2. Jules Cranwell Reply

    November 7, 2022 at 4:52 am

    Yet Ash residents voted for the architect of their present misery, Cllr Spooner, with his blighted Local Plan.

    Yes he did, in the most blatant attempt at parochialism, make a show of trying to confer new green belt status on Ash, but he should have known the inspector would never allow that. At the same time, he robbed the eastern villages of their green belt, causing equal misery there.

    Let the Ash experience inform the planning committee for the Wisley application. Taylor Wimpey can make promises about health, education and bus routes, but they have no power to deliver them.

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