'More than just a building to us': Surbiton Health Centre boss speaks out over criticism by disabled groups
The chief executive of the company which owns Surbiton Health Centre has said criticism of the building by disabled people and campaigners is “disappointing”.
Disability groups, including former mayor councillor Mary Heathcote, who is registered blind, and Theo Harris, chief executive of Kingston Centre for Independent Living, accused developers of failing to listen to their advice before the centre opened.
Their report, to be discussed tonight at a health overview scrutiny committee, claims the centre has poor signage for visually impaired people, corridors too narrow for more than one wheelchair to pass through, no tactile paving to direct blind patients, and a lack of hoists.
Surbiton Health Centre was also hit with weeks of phone problems after opening on March 4 leading to numerous complaints from patients about not being able to get through to their doctor.
Nicola Theron, chief executive of South London Health Partnerships, an organisation made up of the NHS and private investment company Fulcrum, said it was “working very hard” to address a number of “teething problems”.
She said: “As the landlord of the building, South London Health Partnerships is a public private partnership responsible for the development of the building and who continue to deliver a range of services on behalf of Community Health Partnerships.
“But Surbiton Health Centre is more than just a building to us.”
Ms Theron said the partnership had taken “great pains” to make sure the building surpassed statutory access requirements, so that everyone could make use of the centre “no matter what their disability”.
She said corridors were 1,500m wide instead of the statutory 1,200m and that landscaping outside the building “is in contrasting colours and textures and clearly delineated”.
She also cited a recent report by Kingston Council surveyor Steve Wilson, which said the centre went beyond minimum building standards, although the report said the centre was not “incapable of improvement”.
Ms Theron added: “Every new building has its teething problems and we have been working very hard to ensure that these are addressed and corrected as soon as they are identified.
“It saddens me that there is still clearly some dissatisfaction with the building, but it has to be said there is never any publicity given to the many positive comments from those patients and other users of the building who appreciate the centre and the benefits it brings to people of Surbiton.”
Fulcrum is part of the Meridiam Group – a European pension-fund backed investment company which has funded the Limerick Tunnel construction, the Presido Parkway project in San Francisco and the Nottingham Tram development.
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