Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Golden opportunity missed?

THE reaction to the news that the Lyme Regis Medical Centre is to be run by Virgin Care has surprised me. 

I thought there would have been a huge hue and  cry - but the response from the town has been rather muted.

We have received only two letters to the editor, both against obviously, although perhaps there will be a more considered comment when people have had time to consider the possible consequences.

Or perhaps the town has grown tired of in-fighting that has been so prevalent at the medical centre for so many years?

The medical centre came into being following the closure of our cottage hospital and was a facility ahead of its time. It was financed by a contribution from the health authority, a gift of £150,000 from the town, through the League of Friends, and by the doctors taking out what was considered to be a huge mortgage.

Lyme was rightly excited by this coming together of all the doctors and provision of medical services under one roof, and there was even talk of possibly having a few hospital-type beds in the new building, although that never reached fruition.

The recent history of legal wrangling at the medical centre has been hugely distressing and worrying for both sides and it would be futile of this column to take sides.

The ownership of the building was settled by a High Court action and I can only recommend that those who want to acquaint themselves with the scale and complexity of the dispute read the judgement following the court case. 

When the judgement, which runs to 150 pages long, went public we put it up on our website and had more than 200 hits. We would be happy to put it up again should there be sufficient demand.

However, surely it’s time to look forward to a more stable future at the medical centre now that the final decision has been made.

To clarify the situation, Dr Andrew Llewelyn, a former GP at the centre and owner of the building with former colleague Dr Lindsay Slater, has agreed a 25-year lease on the centre with the NHS on the proviso that all NHS services will be protected. Break clauses are written into that contract should the NHS default on that agreement.

NHS Dorset has then selected Virgin Care as their preferred provider of services on a five-year term and will offer them the contract on completion of satisfactory due diligence.
Drs Llewelyn and Slater have had no influence over the selection of Virgin.

There is, of course, disappointment that the bid to run the medical centre from local doctors, led by Forbes Watson, was not accepted. I have spoken to someone who sat on the panel which made the decision and was told that Virgin and the local doctors both submitted “brilliant” applications.

Virgin have no other contracts with the NHS in Dorset but they do run 120 medical practices elsewhere.

There are those - and I have some sympathy for this view - that think we have missed a great opportunity of reuniting local doctors and returning to the original aspirations of the medical centre pioneers.

We all hanker after those days when your local GP cared for you more as a family friend - the Ferdy factor, coined after the now retired Dr Alexander Fernandez - but these are different times, especially in the NHS.

That ugly word “profit” now comes into the equation in all walks of life, including health care.

But in all this we should not forget the role that the medical centre staff have played in caring for the people of this area down the years - despite all the issues and problems.


IT IS good to see the much heralded skatepark project in Lyme Regis moving forward - at last.

They say the town has been waiting 40 years and more for a skatepark, which is true in part. 

I remember Royston Davies making overtures to the old borough council many years ago but there was quite a long period when the word “skatepark” was never uttered in the council chamber as the craze went in and out of popularity.

In the last ten years, however, it has been a big bone of contention as the town council struggled to find a universally acceptable site.

In the end it’s come down to the only one on offer - in the Charmouth Road car park, not the first choice of skateboarders but, it would seem, better than having no site at all.

Championed by Lucy Campbell, the council’s youngest member, it would seem that real progress is now being made and last week’s Skatepark Week has certainly raised the campaign’s profile and raised much needed funds.

The town council has generously agreed to contribute £25,000 a year for three years from its balances and the skatepark campaigners have done their PR a world of good by demonstrating that they are working hard on the fundraising front.

They have drafted in Cheryl Reynolds to help. She’s one of those determined people who delivers what she promises and last week’s events produced nearly £3,000 with Saturday night’s harvest home at the Nag’s Head - surely Lyme’s most community-minded pub - being brilliantly successful. 

More power to their elbow.

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