Crippling waits to see a GP in Wickford look set to be eased – when the number of doctors at a surgery could double from five to ten.
Doctors will also be trained at the new £2million town centre base, which will split over two floors, and it is hoped minor operations will be performed there, along with blood tests.
Today, for the first time, the Echo can reveal what the longawaited new town surgery, set to open off Market Road, will look like when it opens next summer.
The new surgery will replace the old one in London Road.
The news comes as a relief for residents in Wickford, after the Echo revealed in March there was just one doctor per 1,700 people in the town – far higher than the national average.
Malcolm Buckley, Tory cabinet member for regeneration, who is defending his Wickford Castledon seat this week, said: “We understand there are issues with seeing a GP in Wickford, and this should hopefully go some way to easing those waits.
“In business terms, yes, it is moving from one place to another – but this is a building with all the mod cons.
“It will be moving to a better location for patients, will offer a better range of treatments and there will be the ability to have doctors train on site.
“And figures from the NHS show that if a doctor has trained at a surgery, they are more likely to stay there.”
NHS England has previously admitted it is losing Basildon GPs to London, and is looking for ways to compete with the capital.
The new base will have eight consulting rooms, and three treatment rooms – ensuring that the London Road practice should be able to double its tally of five doctors and three nurses.
But concerns have been raised the new facility is just a carbon copy of the current surgery.
David Harrison, Ukip candidate for Wickford Park, said: “We would want to review if the proposed move and investment for the London Road GP surgery to the market site would significantly improve medical care and services for Wickford people.”
A new health centre was on the cards for Wickford as part of the £100million Masterplan, which collapsed due to the recession, in 2010.
Alan Ball, Ukip candidate for Wickford North, added: “We were promised a ‘health centre’ – Conservatives’ words not mine – this has now been diluted to a doctors’ surgery and possible extra services which the NHS will be pressed to provide.
“This is not good enough.”
However, Tony Ball, leader of the council and defending his Wickford North seat, hit back, saying: “It was up to the council to take the initiative and make this happen.”
Essex County Council has given Basildon Council £500,000 towards the cost, which will largely be met by the borough council.
Fed-up patients welcome improvements
FED-UP patients have warmly welcomed improvements to two major doctors surgeries.
They are hopeful the new Wickford GPs practice, and the additional building at the Knares Medical Centre, in Lee Chapel, will ease the burden on the hard-hit local health service.
Long waits have become commonplace, especially in Wickford and Laindon due to oversubscribed practices and a lack of doctors.
After recently leaving Laindon Health Centre, Lauren Ridley, 23, is considering signing up to the Knares Medical Centre because of the proposed new facilities.
Miss Ridley, of Woodstock Gardens, Laindon, was forced to take her son Archie, now 17 months, to Basildon Hospital for conjunctivitis treatment after a five-day wait to see a doctor.
She said: “It’s really good something is being done to improve the GP crisis.
“We’ve got a real problem here. Young children tend to need to visit the doctor a lot, so it’s important waiting times aren't too long. If I need to get an appointment for my son, I just say it’s an emergency.
“I want him to get seen as soon as possible because it can be very worrying, and I can’t do anything when I’m stuck at home.”
With thousands of new homes set to come to the borough in the next few years, the GP problems risk getting worse.
Knights Surgery, in Knights, Laindon, will soon be extended and relocated to a new estate, off nearby Ballards Walk, in a bid to ease crippling waits.
Basildon Council, meanwhile, is expected to ask developers to help contribute to improving the bursting infrastructure.
Wendy Townhill, 53, of Wick Drive, Wickford, attends the London Road Surgery and works as a community midwife.
She said the new £2million doctors practice in the town centre – on the current Wickford Market site – is a huge relief to her and the expectant mums she helps.
Mrs Townhill said: “There have been long waiting times at the practice for a long, long time now.
“They have recently started opening on Tuesday evenings, so things have got a bit better, but this long-term measure is still much-needed.
“I had to wait two weeks for an appointment recently. I probably could have got in a bit earlier if I went to see another doctor, but you build up a relationship with your own GP.”