Passions run high at public meeting - but is there a 'glimmer of hope' for health facilities in Leighton Buzzard?

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Passions were running high at a Leighton Buzzard meeting about GP capacity on Thursday (February 9).

Around 300 people descended upon Cedars Upper School to grill public figures about healthcare, including MP for South West Bedfordshire Andrew Selous, Central Bedfordshire Council leader Richard Wenham, Dr John Henderson chair of the Primary Care Network, and guests from the Bedfordshire Luton and Milton Keynes Integrated Care Board (BLMK ICB): its CEO Felicity Cox, chair Dr Rima Makarem, and chief primary care officer, Nicky Poulain. The meeting was chaired by Town Mayor Farzana Kharawala.

Mr Selous, who organised the event, said: "I believe there is a glimmer of hope, and I won't put it more strongly than that, as I would hate to over promise. But the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care owns quite a large plot of land off Vandyke Road. The legal advice to the Department of Health and Social Care came in on Monday [February 6], that it is finally possible to release some value from that land, so that is new. And that brings an additional pot of money to the table."

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Mr Selous told the audience that, as he understands, it doesn't mean that the health facilities would have to be placed on that part of the town.

The public meeting at Cedars on February 9. Image: NHS BLMK Health and CareThe public meeting at Cedars on February 9. Image: NHS BLMK Health and Care
The public meeting at Cedars on February 9. Image: NHS BLMK Health and Care

He added: "I think my gentle challenge to my good friends at the health authority here, is it sometimes feels that if primary care is a little bit of a Cinderella, it's not been quite priortised enough. Please look at your budgets, can you please reprioritise something?"

Dr Makarem then spoke of "misinformation" that the BLMK ICB would like to "correct".

She told the audience: "We are still working on the five hubs for Central Bedfordshire, one of which is planned for here. It is not off the table. It never has been off the table."

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She later admitted that the NHS had "not been good at talking to [consulting with] the public", and it was noted that this should be improved.

Did you attend the meeting?Did you attend the meeting?
Did you attend the meeting?

Felicity Cox, chair of the BLMK Integrated Care Board, explained: "We're working with CBC to look at how we can make the other hubs stack up. We do have a large budget, yes it's £1.6bn, however, we also have a lot of things to spend it on."

She explained that "more than half" its budget goes on hospital services, with 11 per cent for primary care, and eight per cent for medicines. Other areas include: mental health, community services, and long term health care at home.

However, she stated that recent extra funding for Leighton Buzzard would mean additional paramedics and clinical pharmacists could be recruited at Leighton Buzzard Health Centre.

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One member of the public claimed that the "elephant in the room" was that the Conservative government was to blame for underinvestment in the NHS. Meanwhile, GPs are "overworked" and receive "bad press", causing recuritment issues.

CBC was also criticised for not having enough S106 money for health - "who's giving people the money to build houses without hubs?" - but Councillor Wenham said that the council could not simply "whistle up" extra facilities.

Concluding the meeting, Mr Selous said that the value of the Vandyke Road land needed to be released "at pace", while the Mayor stated: "We [Leighton-Linslade] are not to be ignored!"

Did you attend the meeting? Email your thoughts to [email protected]