In 1998, GPs calculated that existing practices in the town provided only 60% of the space required. Since then, the town has lost one practice.
Now Dunstable’s population is set to balloon – with 30,000 new homes planned.
Recently retired local GP Dr Mary Hawking is concerned about the likely impact on health services.
In the late 1990s a co-located health centre proposed by GPs never came to fruition after NHS reorganisation scuppered the plans.
A second attempt to get the health centre built in 2007/8, with funding released from housing developers under section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act, never attracted sufficient NHS capital.
Dr Hawking says PCT leaders chose to fund secondary care services and a practice in another town.
Now the council has recognised the need for a medical centre in town centre redevelopment plans for Dunstable, but Dr Hawking fears there has been little consultation with GPs.
Space at a premium
Existing local practices cannot afford to take on additional GPs, and even if they could, they have no space, she says.
‘In Dunstable there is already a crisis,’ says Dr Hawking.
'For the centre of Dunstable, not only have we no real prospects of ever being able to increase space, also every single square inch of unoccupied land is being built on with flats. The population is increasing, and although everybody is keen to offer extra services they still just have the same space.'
Under previous NHS arrangements, she says, PCTs were able to set up their own practices to serve new developments which could be contracted once they had a viable list size. But now, it seems, no one has the powers or responsibility.
'Suppose they put a new town in the wilds of Kent. How are you going to provide general practices unless you have someone up the top to say: "We need to provide primary care"?'