NW in 2018 | Health check

With more than 90% of health and care leaders saying they’re concerned about their organisation’s ability to cope with winter demand this year, 2018 will begin with all eyes on how GP surgeries and A&E departments manage to carry the strain with the resources they have, writes Jayne Cottam of Assura.

Predictions of a particularly nasty flu season combined with the statistical realities of an ageing population and the ongoing challenge of recruiting and retaining staff makes for a chilling winter forecast.

GP surgery buildings need to be kept in good condition all winter, so that staff have the modern workplaces and space they need to maximise their opening hours and services to patients.

This year, the Government set out its next steps to transform primary care, including plans to dramatically increase evening and weekend GP appointments, to encourage practices to work together in networks or hubs and to grow the primary care workforce by 2020. Given the ambitions to increase the numbers of GPs, clinical pharmacists, mental health therapists and physician associates working in primary care by 2020, we should expect to see progress accelerating in 2018.

But with far too many primary care buildings still struggling for space and access, that will mean looking closely at the buildings that will house these services. We expect that message to gain even more traction this year. Locally, Sustainability & Transformation Partnerships, which are bringing together planning for health and care services across 44 different areas of England, have been asked by NHS England to show “concrete progress” by March. Many of their plans highlight better primary care estate as a crucial factor, so we look forward to more detail.

This should also be the year in which we learn more about national plans to improve GP surgery buildings. In March, Sir Robert Naylor recommended that private sector investment could be used to fund this. Subsequently, we joined with our colleagues in the primary care property sector to flag the collective investment we could make through third party development – more than £3bn.

If there’s one New Year’s resolution that could really support GPs struggling in unfit premises, it would be that far better information goes to doctors, STPs and Clinical Commissioning Groups on the range of options open to them. With another of those options slated to launch during 2018 (Government’s long-promised new public-private partnerships for primary care estate, badged ‘Project Phoenix’), better information to help practices make progress on premises would be a simple step which could make a big difference.

Finally, in the North West we’ll continue to follow Greater Manchester’s progress on NHS estate next year. The delivery of primary care under devolution has already seen huge leaps forward on extended access for patients. Configuring the buildings GPs will need to help keep up that momentum of change will be a challenge not just for the New Year, but for many years to come.

  • Jayne Cottam is chief financial officer at Assura

The North West in 2018 series features guest contributors looking ahead to next year and is published throughout December.

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