DOCTORS have reassured patients in an isolated community that their village surgery is not facing closure.

The surgery in St John’s Chapel, at the top of Weardale, is a lifeline for many who cannot travel far.

Residents have raised concerns about the future of the surgery after it unexpectedly closed on a number of days including last Thursday.

Some people believe this could lead to a justification of its permanent closure to centralise the facilities, as some services have been slowly withdrawn in recent years.

Prescriptions must now be collected from Stanhope and, as of January 2020, phone prescriptions will no longer be available to pick up at St John’s Chapel.

Weardale County Councillor John Shuttleworth said: “There have been a number of concerns expressed by residents of the upper dale about the frequency of days when the surgery is now closed. Any suggestion of closing this facility better not happen.”

He added: “Residents need assurance that the surgery will be open all week days, and any idea of closing it will be resisted.”

A resident of Upper Weardale said: ” We are just not getting the service, they are duty bound to attend their patients.

“It’s a disgrace if we have to go to Stanhope, there is a steep bank that many elderly will struggle to climb.”

The price of a taxi from St John’s Chapel to Stanhope is £8 and this can be a lot for those who need to travel often.

St John’s Chapel Parish councillor Les Blackett said: “It should be open five days a week but it opens three days, if that. It was well used before, you couldn’t get a seat, this has been a recent thing.”

In a letter to Cllr Shuttleworth, Dr Matthew Hewitt of the Weardale practice said: “We are very sorry to hear that our patients have been inconvenienced by our recently changed operational opening times.”

The letter also explains that Dr Amy Rowan has recently gone on maternity leave and Dr Kath Fielder has left the surgery. An advert for the job has been on the NHS website since June but has not received a single applicant.

“As a practice our current staffing situation is such that we are unable to have a presence at all three sites at all opening times," the letter adds.

“Please be assured that this is not part of any planned closure of the branches, but an unfortunate affect of a national shortage of general practitioners.”