Around 250 people turned out at a public meeting in Neyland on Thursday to passionately call for their GP Surgery to remain open.

Argyle Medical Group has submitted an application to Hywel Dda University Health Board to close St Clement's Surgery, which has 2,300 patients on its books.

More than 10 per cent of those patients turned up at the town's Athletic Club to call on Argyle Group to reconsider.

Patients were told that if the closure was to go ahead, it could take place as soon as June or July.

The meeting was chaired by former Pembrokeshire Coroner Michael Howells, in the absence of Neyland mayor Cllr Simon Hancock.

Cllr Hancock has a relative working within Argyle Medical Group and had taken advice on a potential interest before deciding he should not attend, Mr Howells said.

St Clement’s Surgery GP Dr Richard Bury told the meeting how recruitment problems - a major issue across Wales and the UK - meant that the service to patients was on the verge of becoming unsafe.

Dr Bury said: “We are well down on staff numbers and trying to cover 70/80 appointment slots each day. It’s becoming untenable. We started with 13 GPs, now it’s the equivalent of 8-and-a-half.

“I have a lot of partners who are right on the edge.”

Lone working for staff at the surgery was also an issue, said Dr Bury, who recounted a story of a man brandishing a ‘hatchet’ in the surgery, frightening staff.

Bringing everyone under the same roof at Argyle Street would be safer for patients and staff, he added.

Dr Jenny Boyce told the meeting how much pressure she and her colleagues were under.

“Each day I will be seeing at least 36 patients and doing, six, eight, 10 [home] visits.

“I have to make a correct clinical decision for every single one of them.

“If I don’t, the consequences are huge.”

A series of questions had been submitted in advance of the meeting and Mr Howells worked his way through them.

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The first question highlighted the dissatisfaction that many patients felt about the way the proposal to close the surgery suddenly filtered out onto social media.

Dr Bury admitted that neither the Community Health Council or the surgery’s patients’ participation panel had been informed before the proposal had been put forward.

A second question queried what would actually be achieved by the closure of St Clement’s, given that it is already only open for morning appointments.

Practice Manager Judith Schofield said the practice had lost more doctors since the move to mornings only.

But Mrs Schofield sparked anger from the packed meeting by claiming “nobody is ever refused an appointment.”

Patients shouted that it was a regular occurrence to be on the telephone for long periods and not get an appointment, only to face the same situation the next day.

They pointed out that people would be far more likely to go to A&E if they found it even more tough to get appointments in the future.

An Argyle Street patient said Argyle was already extremely busy and he had actually been offered an appointment at St Clement’s recently.

He questioned whether Argyle could physically handle an extra 2,300 patients on its books.

Asked if a merger with Neyland’s Charles Street Surgery was an option, the meeting was told that the area to cover would be too large.

Question 4 stated that Neyland patients “feel abandoned and treated as second class citizens, particularly the poor, the elderly, the house-bound and the disabled who are most likely to be adversely affected by the closure.”

It went on to ask why St Oswalds Surgery, in Pembroke Dock, had not been considered for closure over St Clement’s.

Mrs Schofield said “nobody is more important than anybody else” but stated that St Oswalds is a bigger facility than St Clement’s and covers an area that extends to Angle.

Mrs Schofield said it was actually shorter distance between St Clement’s and Argyle Street than St Oswalds and Argyle Street.

But that was met by angry cries of ‘not when the [Cleddau] bridge is closed’ – as it was the night that Argyle Group made its announcement to close the surgery.

Asked what would happen if Hywel Dda refused the closure, Dr Bury said: “The system will fail, it will fall over.”

He added: “If they did say no we would have to look at all our options. As I said before, we are on a knife-edge with the pressure our doctors are under.”

The meeting was assured that any closure of St Clement’s Surgery would not have an impact on the town’s pharmacy.

Pharmacist Jon David said the pharmacy was organising a repeat prescription service which will order and collect prescriptions from Pembroke Dock and dispense them in Neyland.

Questions from the floor highlighted extra travel to Argyle Street, the extra cost of crossing the Cleddau Bridge and lack of public transport for those who don't have cars.

In response to whether the closure was a financial move, Dr Bury said: “Finance has not been taken into account at all.”

Patients called for the group’s appointment system to be changed to include booking appointments in advance.

Staff said the appointment system would be looked at should the closure go ahead but Dr Bury said previous attempts at an advanced booking system had seen many appointments missed.

He said there was no function under the NHS rules whereby anyone who did not turn up for appointments could be ‘fined’ or charged.

At the close, patients were offered to pass a resolution that in the event of Argyle Medical Group failing to reverse its decision or failing to pool resources with the town's Charles Street Surgery, Hywel Dda University Health Board should take control of the group "in order to avoid a collapse of primary care services to its patients."

However, the meeting decided that a member of the Health Board should have been in attendance and called for a further meeting, with the Health Board, to decide what action to take next.

Patients urged Argyle Street to reconsider the closure option and moved to hold another meeting with all parties, including a Health Board representative.