Over 40 people attended a public meeting in Burnham-On-Sea last night (Thursday) to air their concerns about a controversial decision to withdraw vital Warfarin blood testing at the town’s medical centre due to a shortage of doctors and nurses.

As first reported here by Burnham-On-Sea.com, Burnham & Berrow Medical Centre has written to 230 patients stating that it has “to concentrate resources on providing essential general practice services” due to the recruitment problems.

From July 1st, the life-saving Warfarin blood testing and management service is being withdrawn and patients have been advised to use other medical centres instead.

The 40 people at Thursday’s public meeting at Burnham’s BAY Centre spoke out against the abrupt decision and voted to keep lobbying the centre over the changes.

Dave Chappel from Bridgwater Trades Union Council, who chaired the meeting, said: “We have grave misgivings about what’s going on in our NHS locally. Residents were given very, very short notice that this important life-saving service would be withdrawn.”

Will Harris, a Wells GP and representative of the Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said: “The CCG did not take this decision. Burnham and Berrow Medical Centre took the decision itself since they did not have the staff.”

“The decision is deeply unfortunate and deeply undesirable and not going to help anyone. We are continuing to work with the practice to try and see the service returned.”

Responding to criticism that the one month’s notice was inadequate, Mr Harris added: “It’s not good for anyone. All parties will have to look back and ask if there is anything they could have done differently. I know it has been deeply worrying for residents.”

During the meeting – which was organised by Unite Somerset Community Branch and Bridgwater Trades Union Council – Mike Lang, a Burnham-On-Sea patient who is affected by the changes, said: “The letter from the practice explaining that the service would be withdrawn came as a complete bombshell.”

“We should have known weeks or even months in advance. One friend was so disgusted that he said he would consider stopping taking Warfarin, which the doctor says would be suicide.”

Colin Brooks said he has been taking Warfarin for four years and asked: “Why have patients not been encouraged to take alternative medicines instead to make it easier for the practice?” Will Harris explained that it would likely be “more expensive” to offer an alternative treatment.

Another audience member said: “There are elderly people affected here with mental health issues who cannot decide what to do – they are vulnerable people who won’t be able to get to Highbridge Medical Centre. It worries me that Highbridge will be able to handle another 230 Warfarin patients from Burnham.”

Tessa Munt, the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate in Burnham, said: “It is difficult and expensive for some of these local people with transport difficulties to get to other medical centres. Many don’t want to change. I know my parents in law have been with the same doctor for many years and would not want to change.”

David Clarke added: “Why weren’t the Burnham & Berrow Patient Participation Group (PPG) more involved? I feel there should have been some kind of meeting held by the surgery to discuss the changes.”

Mary Kelly, Chairwoman of the Burnham & Berrow Patient Participation Group, said: “We should have been involved a lot earlier – months ago – but we were just as shocked as the patients to read about the changes.”

Trevor Jones added: “We didn’t get a choice to stay or leave Burnham Medical Centre. The management side of the surgery is horrendous. They’ve totally ignored their patients.”

Sue Dragt said: “There is real anxiety about how Highbridge will handle 230 Warfarin patients. No-one knows how they will manage to cope with all these extra people.”

And Paul Gilroy added: “Where will this stop? What’s next? The Warfarin treatment is such an important service that I think the surgery is no longer fit for purpose and should not be operating. They should be treated with contempt.”

He added: “They have known for over a year ago that this was coming – it really is terrible and all patients should be concerned. They could be planning to do this to more patients with other conditions in the future.”

Another audience member queried whether any patients who are unable to travel to Highbridge for medical reasons will be able to take legal action.

Turning to general local medical provision, Phoebe Pearce raised concerns about the number of doctors at the Burnham centre, saying: “A big issue here in Burnham is the lack of doctors. A few years ago there were ten GPs, and now there only three. The service has been cut right back.”

Tessa Munt added: “We should also be concerned that the A&E at Weston Hospital is being temporarily closed overnight. With tens of thousands of visitors each year, how will it cope? The pressure is on. Some have been quoted as saying ‘there’s no crisis in our NHS’ but I think there is.”

Another audience member raised concerns about the letter sent out by the medical centre, claiming it had been “inaccurate” because a nurse plans to take holiday leave which may lead to the Warfarin service actually finishing a week earlier than the July 1st date mentioned. But Will Harris from the CCG responded: “I haven’t heard this before tonight, but if that’s the case we will want to know more and will follow that up.”

The meeting concluded with several votes from the audience.

The first proposal, from Dave Chappel, was a motion requesting that Weston A&E’s temporary overnight closure be reversed. The proposal was carried with a show of hands in favour. The proposal will be sent to the Chief Executive of Weston Area Health Trust, local MPs, the Secretary of State and the ambulance trust.

The second proposal from Tessa Munt will ask the CCG to identify whether any other medical services in the Burnham-On-Sea area are threatened in a similar way to the Warfarin testing. The proposal was also carried with a show of hands in favour.

A third proposal, from Mike Lang, was that the group should continue lobbying over the changes at Berrow and Burnham Medical Centre. The proposal was carried with a show of hands.

The group is planned to lobby the CCG outside its AGM later this month on June 28th. Members also plan to attend an open day at Highbridge Medical Centre on June 21st to hear more about its capabilities.

Mary Kelly, Chairwoman of the PPG, told Burnham-On-Sea.com afterwards: “I thought it was a good meeting – I was very pleased that we had Will along from the CCG to answer some questions in the absence of anyone from the medical centre. I don’t know whether we saw support this evening or whether people are just feeling frightened and vulnerable about the changes.”

MP James Heappey was unable to attend the meeting due to another engagement in London, however one of his staff attended and the MP released a statement before the meeting.

It was noted by the meeting’s Chairman that no-one from Burnham and Highbridge Town Council or Burnham and Berrow Medical Centre had attended the meeting.