Bellingham and its surrounding area is a vast hinterland of land but home to only 3000 residents. For some time the Friends of Bellingham Surgery (FOBS) have been in dispute with the Northumberland Care Trust about the extent to which they were funded as one of the most rural and complex GP practices in the country. I have met both sides and have sympathy for both - the care trust have a budget to keep to, and the GP practice has a more challenging environment than any I know in terms of size and ability to provide the basic services.
Ultimately the FOBS challenged Northumberland Care Trust over their decision in a High Court judicial review into how the doctors in the rural area were being funded and treated. Clearly the matter is too complex for a blog and you can see full details on the FOBS website, but recently a High Court Judge agreed with the FOBS team and ordered a judicial review.
Fortunately litigation in detail has now been avoided and the Northumberland Care Trust have agreed to reconsider the decisions it took surrounding the financial changes and make their assessments known by the end of next month.
Full details in this weeks Hexham Courant
Retired Bellingham GP Dr Iain Mungall, who has pivotal to the fight, was quoted as saying there was "clear discrimination against rural communities and their patients. We are looking for some recognition as to the additional expenses rural practices face.”
I, for one am pleased that the Care Trust are going to be looking at the decision afresh. I believe common sense has prevailed on both sides and welcome the parties approach.
One final point: the FOBS claim was conducted for free by the Pro Bono Network and a very capable young barrister enlisted by FOBS. This makes me especially proud as my former career featured a great deal of work as a pro bono lawyer trying to empower patients or communities who felt powerless in the face of government organisations.
The case of Compton v Wiltshire Primary Care Trust was favourably cited in support by the FOBS and anyone who wishes can google the details, but the key hearing that changed patient representation forever can be found here: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2008/880.html