THE closure of a rural branch surgery near Bishop Auckland will go ahead following a unanimous agreement from councillors.

Durham County Council’s adults, wellbeing, and health overview and scrutiny committee on Friday voted through the proposal to close the St Andrew's Medical Practice Byers Green branch.

The surgery has been operating in the village for more than 30 years but residents will now have to travel to the practice’s Spennymoor hub for appointments.

Speaking at the meeting at County Hall, Durham City, practice manager Tracey Martin said: “It’s a very small building that we rent from livin.

"It’s got a waiting room, a toilet and a consulting room and has no IT or anything else.

“All we can actually do is talk to patients.

"Over the last few years the use of the surgery has dwindled quite a lot.

"We did try to promote it a couple of years ago but it didn’t work.

“Over the last year or so, we’ve seen 84 patients at that branch surgery. That’s an average of three a week.”

Originally, the surgery was open for four mornings per week but this was latterly reduced to two mornings.

Ms Martin said the underused facility had a knock-on effect on the main practice.

“It’s a 15 minute drive from our surgery and it means that it reduces the number of patients we can see at the main surgery by about 18 a week,” she said.

“The same as any other surgery, we are struggling to see the patients and its size has gone up exponentially over the last two or three years.”

To mitigate the impact on patients in Byers Green, the practice will block two appointments a day to fit in with the limited bus service.

However, some patients remain concerned about the closure. One resident, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “The surgery is a lifeline to some people, especially older people who can’t drive and can’t afford to pay for taxis.

"Not everyone has someone who can give them lifts or can accompany them on the bus if they struggle to use public transport.”

Following a letter to patients in November, concerns were raised about a lack of consultation.

Committee chairman, Cllr John Robinson, wrote to the practice to express his concerns.

It was resolved advice would be given to surgeries about their duties and responsibilities to inform, engage and consult relevant bodies.