GP surgery that faced closure in a picturesque Cornish fishing village is saved

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A GP surgery in a picturesque Cornish fishing village has been saved after residents launched a hunt to find a new family doctor.

People in Mevagissey, on the east coast of the county close to St Austell, faced the closure of their only surgery when its only partner resigned. 

In desperation to keep it open, residents filmed a video to try and attract a new head GP as part of their #WillYouBeMyGP campaign.

GPs at the Veor Surgery in nearby Camborne have now stepped in to take over the contract and the partner has agreed to stay on.

Dr Katherine James was getting ready to leave the Mevagissey surgery, which serves 5,300 patients, at the end of July. It is not clear why she was departing.

More staff will be employed to keep the practice open. Dr James revealed she was pleased with the solution and happy to be staying at the surgery.

She said: ‘I have been overwhelmed by the support that everyone has offered and the hard work to achieve this positive outcome for the community.’

With no replacement for Dr James, residents feared they may have to travel six miles (9.6km) to the nearest town to see their GP.

They claimed public transport is poor in the area, meaning the closure of the surgery would affect elderly people and those who don’t drive.   

In their four-minute clip, local residents tried to sell the job with clips of the harbour village, saying it is ‘a lovely place for people to move to’.

The bay is filled with small fishing boats, surrounded by green hills and filled with quaint white houses. 

In the clip a local parish councillor from the nearby village of Gorran Haven, Michael, said: ‘We’re a very rural area – it’s a farming community and a fishing community.

‘For us to get to St Austell to the doctor’s surgery would be a half-an-hour walk to the bus stop and then an hour’s bus ride, so you’re looking at a three-hour round trip.’

A woman appearing in the Mevagissey video with her daughters and elderly mother said: ‘The amount of people that are registered at that surgery, where are we going to go? Who’s going to take us?’

Residents advertised their fishing village with claims of a range of places to eat and drink, clubs and activities and plenty of charming countryside nearby. 

Michael, the local councillor, added: ‘We love our GP, we love Mevagissey surgery… we need that service to continue and we need a GP here to come to our beautiful community and to look after us.’

Part of the trouble of a modernising NHS may be that rural communities have different needs to those in urban areas, leaving them in more difficulty.

And GPs may feel less motivated to become partners, who are responsible for running the business as well as treating patients, and lots of paperwork. 

A former doctor at Mevagissey surgery, Marlene Behennah, told The Guardian when the campaign was launched: ‘Every generation does things differently. 

‘Things have got to evolve and people have probably got to be prepared to accept a different sort of healthcare. 

‘What works for London – drop-in centres and such – doesn’t work for an area like this. Public transport is not good, people can’t travel long distances.’  

Nick Kaye, partner at the Veor Surgery, around 30 miles (48km) from Mevagissey, said: ‘When we saw the local TV coverage of the community campaign to find a GP for the surgery, we all agreed we wanted to help.

‘The community’s response was inspiring and we are so pleased we were able to work with Dr James to keep GP services in the heart of Mevagissey.

‘With Dr James’s experience and our support, we are confident we can provide great care for patients.’  

The campaign, which gained international attention, found three potential GPs whose details have been passed to Veor Surgery.

Dr Nikki Kanani, NHS England’s interim medical director for primary care, said: ‘A lot of hard work has gone in to ensuring the Mevagissey practice stays open.’

She added it was ‘vital’ that the health service retains and supports experienced family doctors, such as Dr James.  

Patient and local councillor James Mustoe said: ‘This is a victory for the community of Mevagissey and the surrounding area.

‘My congratulations to those who run a successful and well thought out campaign on a great job well done.

‘It was vital that we kept this service running and, with the strong efforts of the positive community campaign, this is what has happened. 

‘All in all, a staggering victory for people power, a brilliant campaign and it goes to show that if you are positive and get the message out there, people do listen and you get results. Thank you Mevagissey.’

Reflecting on the news, and next steps, co-campaign organiser Kim Andrews said: ‘I’m absolutely thrilled.

‘When we started this campaign, such a short while ago, we had no idea where it would take us or what the outcome would be.

‘To have gathered so much attention and positive input from around the world is amazing, and to have this as our result is beyond pleasing.’

A spokesman for NHS England said: ‘Patients do not need to take any action and can continue using their surgery as normal.

‘Letters have been sent to all patients to explain the position; these should arrive mid-week.’

Mevagissey is one of dozens of communities which face losing, or have lost, their GP surgeries in recent years.

Last year a record 138 surgeries in England closed down, research by GP magazine Pulse reported in May, up from just 18 closures in 2013.

Doctors are facing growing workloads as the population gets bigger, older and suffers from more complex health conditions – but the profession is struggling to recruit new family doctors.

The Royal College of General Practitioners said in November that 762 practices across the UK were at risk of closing by 2023.

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