‘Hospitals down your street is the future’

“Hospitals down your street is the future of health care,” says Healthwatch Lancashire Chair

Healthwatch Lancashire Chair, Mike Wedgeworth, says that the future of health care in Lancashire is local…very local.

According to NHS Digital, around 90% of patient interaction is with primary care services, such as GPs, and their role is set to expand.

All the experts agree that the number of patients who go to hospital needs to be reduced by treating some of them closer to home. This is likely to be in ‘hubs’ where several GPs work together as a team, along with nurses, physios, pharmacists, care workers, admin staff and possibly even representatives of charities. Hospital-based consultants could join in a conversation with the patient and the GP in the local surgery via Skype, or could actually be there in person for half a day a week.

You might call this a ‘mini-hospital down your street’.

There are already GP practices heading in this direction in Lancashire, but there’s a long way to go before it could cover the county.

A great example is the ‘Extensive Care Service’ in Lytham, where some patients with several long-term health problems have a dedicated ‘well-being’ worker who supports them with advice and contacts and not least friendship, enlisting professional help when and where it is needed.

Healthwatch Lancashire has found that although local people are passionate about retaining their local hospitals they are willing for the range of treatments to be expanded within their local surgeries and communities.

This is further supported by findings from Healthwatch Lancashire’s 13 recent visits to GP surgeries, carried out since May 2016 across Lancashire, which show on average more than 98% of patients expressed appreciation for staff in the practices.

The Government certainly seems to be backing this move. Outlined in the General Practice Forward View from NHS England, it is planning (and has promised funding) for 5,000 more GPs by 2020, 3,000 practice-based mental health therapists, 1,500 pharmacists and money for more practice nurses, physician assistants, practice managers and receptionists.

The problem for Lancashire is that we are already way short of our fair share of GPs. Your doctor is likely to have 220 more patients that the national average, 340 more than practices in the South of England. And a higher proportion than nationally are likely to retire in the next few years. Encouragingly though, we do have more general practice staff than the national average.

Of course, we can’t compel doctors to work here. But financial incentives are available, and with the expansion of training places at both the University of Central Lancashire and Lancaster University, it is likely that would-be GPs who know what a great county they are studying in will be motivated to practice here when they qualify.

We certainly need them to.