DOCTORS in Knutsford are working out of cramped, ailing buildings so unfit for purpose one staff member was signed off for six weeks because of the impact of the damp on her health.

Face-to-face appointments are often replaced by telephone surgeries because the GPs literally don’t have the space to see their patients at the Knutsford Medical Partnership.

Many patients are simply unable to climb the steep narrow stairs to the consulting rooms – the same stairs one staff member fell down and broke an ankle. Another went hurtling down another flight and cut her head.

Knutsford Guardian: Signs like these are posted at stairs in the surgerySigns like these are posted at stairs in the surgery (Image: Belinda Ryan, LDRS)

The medics say Cheshire East Council and East Cheshire NHS Trust could put an end to this and greatly improve the health and wellbeing of the town’s residents if they work together.

But so far neither has been willing to sell the land required to build the combined medical centre the town so desperately needs.

Dr Paddy Kearns said: “We’re having to adapt our appointments because we don’t have a room to do some face-to-face appointments.

“On this site (Manchester Road) there is no patient car parking at all. There are narrow, steep stairs, we’ve got very few rooms.”

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The practice has four sites scattered across the Knutsford area – Manchester Road Medical Centre, Toft Road Surgery, Town Lane Surgery and Annandale Medical Centre, whose lease expires in 2027.

The aim is to bring all four together under one roof on land currently occupied by the community hospital, which is owned by East Cheshire Trust, and Bexton Court, which belongs to Cheshire East Council.

That plan has the backing of patients who, following a public meeting last month, have written to the chief executives of both authorities to stress the urgency of the situation and request they agree to sell the sites. The doctors say they can’t thank the patients enough for that.

Knutsford Guardian: Sam Pownall, Dr Paddy Kearns and Dr David HansSam Pownall, Dr Paddy Kearns and Dr David Hans (Image: Belinda Ryan, LDRS)

Dr Kearns said: “The council and East Cheshire Trust can make this happen. This is the opportunity for them to work together to improve the health of the people of Knutsford and surrounding areas.”

He explained the ‘old school way’ of doing it would be to buy a plot of land and build a GP surgery.

“That would cost, especially in Knutsford, an enormous amount of money and then a developer would want an enormous amount of rent to fund that and that’s made that model unaffordable,” he said. “If we use public land and have as many services on that public land, it then becomes viable.

“There might be a need for houses on the site as well. It’s plenty big enough to do a health and wellbeing centre plus other things.”

The site also includes the Stanley Centre, which provides day care services for people with learning disabilities. The council has recently consulted on closing that.

The GPs' executive manager, Sam Pownall, said: “We answered the consultation to say that we would be happy to relocate the Stanley Centre services into our new accommodation.”

Dr Kearns added: “That’s the idea of being a health and wellbeing centre. It’s not just, go and see your doctor for 10 minutes and go home again, it’s potentially people having day care if necessary.”

Like the four Knutsford surgeries, the town’s community hospital is in a poor state of disrepair.

Knutsford Guardian: Bexton Court has been closed since 2010Bexton Court has been closed since 2010 (Image: Google)

And Bexton Court, a former day care centre, has been closed since 2010 yet council tax payers are still paying more than £20,000 a year for costs such as security and business rates.

Dr David Hans said: “We have already built a relationship with the community hospital and used some of their space. It would be nice to build on that, the East Cheshire Trust had been great.

“The services that are offered there now would be part of the new offering and be enhanced with more services.”

The Knutsford GPs have 23,000 patients on their books across the four sites. There are 13 partners.

Sam said: “We’ve got money to employ more staff like mental health workers, advanced practitioners and we can’t offer the new services because we haven’t got space for them.”

The GPs are speaking to developers because Dr Kearns said the NHS and council have both said categorically they don’t have the capital funds to invest in the building.

But everything relies on Cheshire East Council and the East Cheshire Trust.

Dr Kearns said: “The council and the trust haven’t actively blocked it but equally they have not done anything to progress it.”

A spokesperson for Cheshire East Council said: “The council owns the land comprising the closed Bexton Court site.  The council, as landowner, has retained this site for a number of years whilst the NHS has developed its plans for the site and sought capital funding. To date, the NHS has been unable to identify funding to purchase the site or undertake the capital development as proposed.

“The council has a statutory responsibility to achieve appropriate value for money for council taxpayers when disposing of any assets and the capital cost of any scheme brought forward by the NHS will need to include the cost of purchasing the site from the council.

“The council will continue to work closely with the NHS as it develops its plans for the site and identifies the funding required to deliver a viable project.”

East Cheshire NHS Trust’s Chief Executive, Ged Murphy said: “Providing the best possible healthcare across East Cheshire is a priority for East Cheshire NHS Trust. I want to reassure you that we are aware of the conversations relating to the potential development of Knutsford’s primary healthcare provision and discussions are taking place between system leaders.”


My impressions when I visited the Manchester Road surgery, by Belinda Ryan

FROM the outside the Manchester Road Surgery in Knutsford gives the impression of a lovely Victorian building – but inside is a different matter.

The stairs leading to the first floor consulting rooms and the staff areas are extremely steep and narrow.

Getting back down, which is far worse than going up, I found myself descending sideways and holding on to the railing because it felt safer.

Dr David Hans told me: “I’ve had patients that have had to bottom shuffle down the stairs once they’ve got up the stairs because they couldn’t get back down.”

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If you can manage the stairs – and many elderly patients can’t - then there’s the problem of the heat in the summer and the cold and damp in the winter.

I visited on a bright June afternoon – and, despite meeting in the ‘coolest’ room, it was sweltering, but nowhere near as bad as the consultancy room upstairs.

“The doctors have to work in these all day,” said executive manager Sam Pownall.

Go up yet another level, to where the admin staff work, and it’s hot and extremely claustrophobic.

On top of that, if you manage the stairs, you’re likely to knock yourself out on the doorframe unless you remember how low it actually is and bend your head as you go in.

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I asked Sam if the other three buildings used by the practice are as bad – only to be told this is one of the better ones.

“Annandale is full of damp,” she said. “We had a member of staff that essentially couldn’t come to work because of the damp in the room she worked in, which was so embarrassing.”

There are, no doubt, many office buildings in a far worse state than this particular doctors’ surgery – although my photos, unfortunately, don’t do a very good job of showing how bad the conditions are.

But this building caters for people who are ill, many of them elderly.

Dr Kearns said: “Knutsford has one of the highest health needs in the North West because the single most important factor for health need is age and we have a lot elderly people.”

For most of those elderly people a visit to see one of the doctors at the Knutsford Medical Partnership is made all the more difficult because of the buildings.