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The Moray villages refusing to let their GP surgeries close without a fight

Campaigners have held street marches to oppose the move while warning the "future of their communities" is at stake.

Nearly 100 people marched through the streets of Hopeman to oppose the closures. Image: David Mackay/DC Thomson
Nearly 100 people marched through the streets of Hopeman to oppose the closures. Image: David Mackay/DC Thomson

Defiant protestors from Hopeman and Burghead have marched through the communities to fight against the closure of their local GP surgeries.

The branches in the Moray villages closed in March 2020 when the Covid pandemic hit, but have never reopened.

It means residents face up to five-hour return bus journeys for 10-minute medical appointments in Lossiemouth due to them having to change in Elgin to get there.

Protestors have now taken to the streets to plead for the practices to be reopened, arguing they are “fighting for the very survival” of their communities.

It comes as the Lossiemouth-based Moray Coast Medical Practice, which ran the Hopeman and Burghead practices, argue it cannot safely staff them.

However, residents argue more is at stake than just their GP practice.

‘Discriminating against those who can’t drive’

Alison Souter fears those without cars are being discriminated against. Image: David Mackay/DC Thomson

Alison Souter, 59, lives in Hopeman and travelled to Lossiemouth just a few weeks ago for a five-minute appointment with doctors.

For a 9.45am appointment, she left her home at 8am to be in Elgin to catch the 9.10am bus to the doctor’s surgery.

After a five-minute consultation, she had hoped to be able to catch the 10am bus back to Elgin.

However, when that bus didn’t appear she was left waiting for the 10.35am service to begin the journey all the way back again.

She said: “I don’t drive, so they’re telling me I need to book a dial-a-bus to get to a doctor’s appointment.

“But with that you’ve got to ring up the day before a certain time, and if it’s not possible or if I call up too late then it’s four hours out of my day.

“It’s discriminating against elderly and disabled people and those who don’t have a car. We should be creating a more equitable society, not a more unequal one.”

Patients in their 90s driving in agony

Hazel Grant is standing up for her friends and neighbours. Image: David Mackay/DC Thomson

Hazel Grant, from Burghead, marched through the streets to represent her elderly neighbours who are in their 90s.

She revealed some of them are being forced to drive to Lossiemouth in pain for appointments because the ordeal of the bus journey is too much.

The 66-year-old said many had been living in the community all their lives and depended on the service on their doorstep.

She said: “One of the ladies I know has got severe arthritis and she’s got to drive through. On a good day it’s painful for her, on a bad day it’s worse.

“They’re frightened to speak out about it because they’re worried there might be a backlash when they go for appointments.

“People have been living here for a long time and have chosen to stay in Burghead because there is a doctor’s surgery.

“It’s just wrong to take it away.”

‘Totally out of touch’

Ted Parkin warned about issues with bus services getting to appointments. Image: David Mackay/DC Thomson

Ted Parkin braved wintry weather in February to take the bus to see the doctor in Lossiemouth – leaving Hopeman at 11am and not getting home until 3.45pm.

The 76-year-old, who moved to the village in 1980, fears the cost of public transport to see the GP could lead to some people putting off getting medical attention.

He said: “It’s ok for me because I’ve got a bus pass, but if you’re anywhere from 23 to 60 years old it’s about £6.80 return.

“I don’t know if they’ve taken that into account. I asked them and they didn’t know, they’re just totally out of touch.”

‘Fighting for our survival’

The SOS (Save Our Surgeries) group for Hopeman, Burghead and the surrounding area has already taken their fight against the GP closures to the doors of the Moray Coast Medical Practice.

A final decision about the closure of the practices is due to be made next month by Health and Social Care Moray’s integrated joint board.

Liz McKnockiter, chairwoman of Burghead and Cummingston Community Council, warned the stakes are high for the future of the area.

Protestors carries a large banner through Hopeman to protest against the GP closures in the village and Burghead. Image: David Mackay/DC Thomson

She said: “We’ve got to fight against apathy, everyone seems to lamely accept decisions like this now. We have to stand up and fight.

“This is the erosion of our coastal and rural communities that we’ve got to stop. We are fighting for our survival.

“The GP surgery is just one example, but it’s an important one to make sure we still have a community.”

What happens now for Hopeman and Burghead?

The SOS group has pledged to continue the fight to keep the surgeries open.

Discussions have already been held with local health bosses and pleas have been made to the Scottish Government’s health secretary – who told them to speak to local representatives.

Signs have been attached to village noticeboards in Hopeman. Image: David Mackay/DC Thomson

Meanwhile, committee member Dennis Slater, who is a long-time community activist in Hopeman, has proposed short-term solutions for the most vulnerable.

He said: “We are asked for a transitional solution to be put in place as a matter of urgency for our elderly and those who don’t drive and are struggling to adapt to the new system.

“We proposed solutions which may provide a model that can support community access, address shortage of GPs and enhance working within the community with nurse-led care and scheduled GP visits.”