PATIENTS have criticised added pressures placed on GPs, which they believe prompted Freshbrook Surgery’s controversial decision to reduce opening hours to three days a week.

People registered at the practice gathered in the district centre yesterday, when the new slashed operating times come into force, to voice their concerns about the unexpected move.

On July 11, senior partner at Freshbrook Surgery Dr Amit Dwivedi confirmed to the Adver that, with one GP about to leave, another reducing his hours and no applications to fill the vacancies, the practice had asked NHS England for permission to close on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

He explained that as the surgery merged with Ridge Green Medical Practice in Shaw in 2008, the centre would welcome Freshbrook patients on those days.

He also pledged to offer home visits to elderly patients unable to travel to Ridge Green.

While many patients deplored not being consulted by the practice and only being informed of the decision to close the practice twice a week through the story in the Adver, most condemned the Government for, they said, putting doctors off general practice and leaving surgeries like Freshbrook no choice but to reduce operation and leave the most vulnerable in the lurch.

“I don’t blame the practice – my family have received really good care over the years – but I blame the Government,” said Freshbrook patient Steph Exell, 52. “It was a shock when it came out in the press. There are a lot of unwell people around here with complex needs who are going to find it difficult to get to Ridge Green. I see it as a result of what the Government is doing to GP practices and funding.”

Patients along with Labour parliamentary candidate Anne Snelgrove also spent the morning distributing surveys in the village centre asking people about the impact the closure would potentially have on their health.

The practice will now be shut on Tuesdays and Thursdays for the next four months. If no GP has been recruited to fill the vacant post by then, the reduced hours could be implemented permanently, pending permission from NHS England.

Dr Dwivedi said he had attempted to do his best for patients under difficult circumstances.

“We are completely sympathetic to patients’ concerns,“ he said. “But I can’t only give people what I have. Doctors are voting with their feet and leaving general practice. Like everywhere else in the country lots of practices are advertising but no-one is filling the posts.”

Anne Snelgrove said: “I completely understand Dr Dwivedi’s difficulties. There is a national problem getting GPs.

“Many vulnerable people rely on the service offered and it is simply unacceptable for NHS England to agree to this closure. It is their responsibility to ensure there are enough doctors in Swindon and they have failed.”