Doctors caring for nearly 30,000 patients say that building new surgeries will bring “huge opportunities” to tackle health inequalities in some of the most deprived parts of Hackney – as plans for two medical centres were given the go-ahead.
The Town Hall planning committee (3 November) approved two plans to build replacement surgeries.
GPs told them they needed more space to care for patients and recruit staff.
It means that a new health centre will be built on Linscott Road, around the remains of a former orphanage which was put back on a register of historic buildings at risk last year.
The Grade II-listed building known as The Portico dates from 1825 and re-entered Historic England’s risk register last year because of its “declining” condition.
It was built as the London Orphan Asylum and later used by the Salvation Army, with the charity’s founder William Booth laying in state there after his death in 1912.
Hackney Council now owns it and the building was extended in 2005 for use as a learning resource centre specialising in computer sciences until 2017.
Since then it has been used for office and storage by the council’s education services.
It is the second time the plan had been before the committee after residents previously said it needed improvements.
One resident criticised the new plan and said it was “inward-looking” and too close to homes.
She told the committee: “It needs to be taken seriously and done right first time.”
She added: “We feel that this design is not good enough.”
Concerns were also raised about the loss of 11 trees.
Another resident said neighbours “would be permanently affected by the overbearing effects” of the design and wanted developers to go back to the drawing board.
Dr Clare Highton from the Lower Clapton Group Surgery said the new building “will allow us to get out of a truly dreadful building”.
She added: “It has proved an abomination, it has got got a flat roof, we have to run around with buckets.”
She described how thousands of pounds’ worth of Covid vaccines had to be written off after a flood three weeks ago saw the electricity to the vaccine room shut off.
The practice is “bursting at the seams” as it inherited many patients after the Sorsby medical centre closed two years ago. It cares for 15,000 people.
“Our building is really in a very bad state and we are desperate to move,” said Dr Highton.
The new medical centre will have 18 consulting rooms, six treatment rooms and a minor procedures room.
Her colleague Nick Brewer said the move would offer “a huge opportunity to the practice”, allowing group consultations, wellbeing sessions, and the garden could be used to help patients.
It will also help recruit staff, he said, and is central to the Hackney Marshes primary care network – helping patients in one of the most deprived areas, with high diabetes, obesity and smoking rates.
This is because it hopes to get £1m in funding to tackle health inequalities, with more specialist staff including social prescribers, mental health experts and a paramedic for housebound patients.
“If we don’t have anywhere to put these people, we can’t employ them, and we lose the funding for some of the most deprived communities in the country,” said Dr Brewer.
A second new doctors’ surgery on land on Belfast Road was also approved.
It will see a 1930s factory demolished to make way for a new home for the Springhill practice in Stamford Hill, which has 14,000 patients.
Dr Deborah Colvin said: “I think our patients deserve the best we can get for them.”
She said the practice had terrible buildings for years and the current surgery lacks good access for disabled patients, and people can be overheard in communal areas, preventing clinical meetings or discussions about patients in them.
The new surgery would have more space for services such as pop-up Covid clinics and social prescribing.
“We want it to be flexible, welcoming and friendly,” she said.
Anwara Begum said some services are being run at weekends and doctors are working from home as there is insufficient space at the current surgery.
“It’s been really difficult for our patients.”