A DOCTOR'S surgery threatened with closure has opened a state-of-the-art practice, funded by the community it will serve.

After three years of campaigning and fundraising, Hawkshead's new purpose built surgery is ready to be used by its 6,000 registered patients.

The building itself was donated by the late Bill Barr and £37,000 was raised in order to kit it out with all of the essential equipment.

Kaye Ward, one of the two GPs working out of the surgery, said that the small team was 'thrilled' with the new facilities.

"We are thrilled about it," she said. "The old surgery was an old forge it was like a downstairs flat. It was all narrow and damp but this is purpose built.

"I think it's a statement that we're here to stay, that we're fighting our corner and we're determined to keep a service here."

The future of the surgery had become uncertain in 2013 after a change in the way that government funded small and rural practices.

The changes followed the government’s decision to phase out the minimum practice income guarantee which provided finance to smaller practices by guaranteeing a minimum level of funding that was not dependent on the number of patients a GP has on its list.

"The unique challenge around here is getting the funding because we're classed as an atypical practice," Dr Ward told the Gazette.

She explained that although the number of registered patients was relatively small, the surgery was accessed by university students and temporary residents in holiday cottages.

With fewer than 2,000 registered patients, the surgery was deemed unviable. However, without the practice, Hawkshead residents would have had to travel to either Ambleside or Ulverston to get an appointment with a doctor.

For elderly residents who are unable to travel without assistance, Dr Ward said it could have been the difference between a patient seeing their GP or not.

The GPs argued these points. Additionally, to boost its numbers to more than 6,000, the practice amalgamated with Ambleside and Grasmere to form the Central Lakes Medical Practice, helping to secure its future.

Meanwhile, Hawkshead Medical Practice had been battling with NHS England to get the thumbs up for its move from its Red Lion Yard address to a new building.

"The idea was first raised about three years ago by a chap called Bill Barr who unfortunately died last year," Dr Ward said. "He had the idea and then it took us a good 18 months to get permission from NHS England to actually do it and then another 18 months to get to this point."

The Patients' Community Health Fund charity, set by the Members of the Patient Participation Group has been the driving force behind the efforts to raise the essential funds that would equip the building.

Events have included charity galas, tombolas, quizzes and bingo nights. There has also been legacy donations and money given by the Hawkshead Masonic Lodge.

Tess Baxter, who has been a patient at the surgery for the past 30 years and is a member of the patient group said that she thought the charity work had 'brought people together'.

"The community has been really supportive of the whole thing," she said. "Because ultimately if the community didn't believe it was important to have a dedicated surgery you wouldn't get that kind of fundraising."

Having smashed its fundraising target of £35,000, the group will now focus its attentions on prevention projects in order to help educate the community so that trips to the doctor are less necessary.

"It's obviously very good to see it," Ms Baxter said. "All the equipment is here. I know what it's like when you have what you need to hand in the right places."

During an open day for the new surgery, friends, patients and supporters of the fundraising effort were invited to look at the new space.

Christine Rhodes, Far Sawrey resident and a registered patient since 1981, said that she thought the new surgery looked 'absolutely splendid'.

"I think it looks absolutely splendid," she said. "It looks like it could take more patients than are on the books.

"They are fantastic. It's like an extended family. I think it's part of being a village."

The 76-year-old said that she thankfully did not often need to see the doctor but it was good to know that it was there if she needed it.

In order to further ensure that the surgery is viable, it is hoped that other practitioners will begin to use it. Already, a private physiotherapist has shown interest and will be utilising one of the treatment rooms.

However, despite the success that the surgery has enjoyed, healthcare facilities in Hawkshead are not yet safe.

Dr Ward told the Gazette that the village's pharmacy, Collins and Butterworth, is under threat for similar reasons.

"They're under the same threat for the same reasons we are really, for being small and rural," she explained. "And if we didn't have a pharmacy they'd have the same distance to travel again for their prescriptions."

Despite the continued difficulties facing the health sector, patients and staff are overjoyed with the new facilities.

Dr Jane Rimington, the other GP at the practice, said: "I hope the community are really proud of it because they have done so much fundraising from the school to the masons to legacy collections to the surgery.

"It's completely theirs."