THIS picture of a long queue of patients waiting for their GP surgery to open has sparked concerns about the ability of under pressure NHS services to cope with growing demand.

The queue formed outside the Anchor Healthcare Centre in Peacehaven, home to the Meridian Surgery, early Monday morning.

The picture was posted on Facebook and led to a debate about pressures GP surgeries are under.

There is currently a national shortage of GPs, with many practices being forced to close or merge.

With more GPs expected to retire in coming months and years and fewer doctors prepared to take on the role, its is feared the crisis in GP services will worsen.

Neighbouring Brighton and Hove will be losing its eighth surgery in two years this autumn.

Brighton Kemptown MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, whose constituency includes Peacehaven, spoke about the Peacehaven queue in Parliament.

He said: “That is a regular thing for my constituents. “Why? Because, of course, doctors’ workloads have doubled, and the resources to our NHS have reduced.”

Senior partner at the Meridian practice Andy Starling said the queue was bigger than usual for Mondays.

He said: “We are having to find ways to manage immediate demand from patients and staff are under a lot of pressure. We know people have raised issues over trying to get appointments and we have invested in finding ways to make it easier for this to happen, but it is a very difficult balancing act. This is not just an issue affecting us, it is affecting GP practices around the country.”

Plans have been drawn up to create more than 400 new homes for Peacehaven in the coming years, leading to fears GP services in the town will not be able to handle the increase in numbers.

The person who posted the picture on Facebook said: “Queue for the doctors. At least 12 more behind me. Dread to see the queue after the new builds are finished.

“Not a moan about receptionists or doctors. Just pointing out how bad new builds will affect this!”

Another patient, Sandra Isted, 55, has lived in Peacehaven for 30 years,

She said: “There is a lot of concern about the infrastructure around the planned new development and how services will manage if this number of homes are brought in.

“The surgery is already busy. Especially since other surgeries like Central Avenue and Foxhill closed.”

Dr Starling and his partners, along with staff at Rowe Avenue Surgery, have already raised concerns with the council about the planned development.

In a letter objecting to the proposals for the Lower Hoddern Farm site they said: “We as Peacehaven GPs are concerned the building of 450 homes in Peacehaven, with more than 1,000 new patients, may put them and our existing patients at risk.

“Our current services: GP practices, district nurses and health visitors are already dangerously stretched, and it has not been possible to recruit doctors and community matrons to fill vacant posts, never mind new posts. We realise the need for housing but are concerned that any new housing developments in Peacehaven will need to have a beneficial effect on patients’ health.”

In seven to eight years time most Peacehaven GPs will be retired and with recruitment problems we are likely to lose the rest of the medical staff.”

Health bosses are working with councils to monitor which other practices may be at risk of closing in the future due to retirement or doctors moving away so they can make work to ensure patients continue to receive GP care.

At the moment practices in Peacehaven are continuing to take on new patients.

A spokesman for High Weald Lewes Havens Clinical Comissioning Group, which covers the Peacehaven area, said: “We are aware of the pressures facing general practice, including at the two practices in Peacehaven, with increases in demand on services and issues around recruitment.

“The two practices are currently accepting new patients within their boundaries but, if they do experience issues with the way they provide appointments for patients, we will work with them to help address them.”