Desperate South Street Surgery doctors frustrated by developer Frontier Estates in bid for better healthcare facilities for Bishop’s Stortford
Doctors desperate to provide new healthcare facilities for Bishop’s Stortford’s growing population are being frustrated by a developer determined to claw back costs.
Plans for South Street Surgery to have a new base at Stortford Fields have stalled – and its senior and managing partner, Dr Sarah Dixon, has blamed Frontier Estates for the impasse.
Housebuilding across the town has increased the practice’s roll from a stable 19,000 patients to almost 23,000. It has satellites at Bishop’s Park and Herts and Essex Hospital to try to meet demand but desperately needs modern, purpose-built premises.
When Frontier won planning permission for a surgery at Stortford Fields as part of a "western neighbourhood centre", South Street was earmarked as the occupant.
However, in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic and rising inflation, the developer has argued that the scheme is not financially viable.
Dr Dixon said the initial medical centre plans were “inadequately” designed and had to be revised. She said Frontier was determined to “retrieve those abortive costs” by rolling them into the rent for the premises, putting the bill beyond acceptable NHS limits.
She feared the developer had also paid a premium for the land. “Costs have gone up and Frontier is saying they cannot afford to drive things forward,” she said.
She said the surgery had made three attempts to get a rent agreement over the line, going “to the top of the top” at the NHS and dipping into its own coffers to maximise the funding available, but Frontier would not budge.
Dr Dixon wanted residents to know her team was doing everything possible to reach a deal, but Frontier was unwilling to engage.
She said: “We are in this purely to get the right premises for our patients so we can deliver the care that they need.”
The doctors fear the developer will try to maximise its profits by seeking planning permission to build new homes on the surgery site. They have suggested that Frontier sell the land to another developer willing to build a health centre.
They have held a meeting with the town council, lobbied the consortium of developers behind the Stortford North estate and engaged with Stortford Fields residents to find an answer.
Dr Dixon said: “We have not completely given up, but we don’t know how long this is going to take – or if it’s ever going to happen.”
Hertford and Stortford’s Conservative MP Julie Marson promised in March to try to help, urging the then Health Secretary Steve Barclay to intervene, but with no success.
Last week, she used Facebook to deny reports that Frontier had “apparently cancelled plans to build a new GP surgery at Stortford Fields”.
She said: “My office has since been in contact with Frontier Estates. They say these reports are not accurate and that they are ‘committed to trying to find a way to deliver the surgery at Stortford Fields’.”
Dr Dixon told the Indie the GPs felt they had no choice but to speak out about the stand-off and their efforts to find a solution. “It’s just so frustrating, but it got to the point we felt we needed to make a bit more noise,” she said.
Frontier Estates has not responded to Indie requests for comment.
South Street is not the only Bishop’s Stortford surgery desperate to expand. At the Church Street practice, Dr Sian Stanley and the other partners tried to broker a deal with East Herts Council to build extra consulting and treatment rooms next to the surgery's satellite at Thorley Park's neighbourhood centre. This week she confirmed there had been no progress.
Church Street and South Street are part of a partnership of five surgeries in the Stort Valley and Villages Primary Care Network caring for more than 66,000 patients that also includes Helix Medical Centre (formerly Parsonage Surgery) at Herts and Essex Hospital, Bell Street surgery in Sawbridgeworth and Much Hadham Health Centre. Ultimately they expect to care for 100,000 people.