GPs of the future

FUTURES of GP patients in Suffolk were thrown into turmoil recently when it was revealed many surgeries could go private because of changes to their contracts.

FUTURES of GP patients in Suffolk were thrown into turmoil recently when it was revealed many surgeries could go private because of changes to their contracts.

Health reporter HAZEL BYFORD visited Stowhealth, a surgery showing a way forward with arts, exercise and DIY blood pressure monitors.

GONE are the days when a diagnosis, prescription and sympathetic ear were all patients expected from a visit to their GP.

Now that the majority of us live life in the fast lane, those traditional services are not enough.

We want a multi-functioning centre. We want all our health needs in one place. And we want it all now.

Stowhealth in Stowmarket is building on its reputation as a surgery which offers a mix of traditional and forward-thinking, modernised services. It offers a mix of NHS, private and complementary health care under one roof.

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GP Simon Rudland, a partner at the Violet Hill Road practice, said: “Our number one aim is to provide our patients with choice. That's the focus we always come back to.

“When Stowhealth started out four years ago, Stowmarket had a growing population, largely down to the Cedars Park development, and the surgery on this site was inadequate. It was sensible rather than building another practice, to develop this site as bigger and better - to serve the whole population and save money for the local health economy.”

Stowhealth is also home to a community mental health team, social services, a chemist, community services including dentistry and chiropody, a minor surgery room, private services including reflexology and hypnotherapy and a shop selling complementary products such as nutritional supplements.

The centre's ethos is to provide optional services that can be used to complement each other.

Chris Page, business manager, said: “Lots of people buy vitamins and minerals for their health and if they get them from here they also get help and guidance on what's right to use.

“We say complementary products rather than alternative, as it's about all the services under one roof working together.

“The combination of what we provide is really quite unusual. I think the range of services we have is beyond anything else in Suffolk.”

Stowhealth serves 15,500 people from Stowmarket and the surrounding areas, with 13 GPs, six nurses, two healthcare assistants and 30 admin staff.

It is renowned for its work with local artists and houses exhibitions in its corridors and waiting rooms.

It is currently showing Stowaway Health, an exhibition focussing on travel and travel health, in memory of Stowhealth's late partner Dr Ian Jenkins who died while holidaying in Sri Lanka last year.

One of its most effective clinical innovations is its On the Day Team (OTDT), which helps patients who want to be seen quickly. Patients phone when they are ill and are guaranteed a call back within 30 minutes. Around a third are dealt with over the phone, and the majority of the rest will be seen by an OTDT of doctors and nurses that same day.

It doesn't suit everybody as there is no guarantee you will see the GP you are registered with, but most people just want to be seen quickly and do not mind who by.

The service keeps people who want to be seen quickly happy and keeps other GPs' waiting lists down.

Pressure on traditional services are also eased by a long term conditions clinic.

People with these conditions such as breathing problems, high blood pressure, diabetes and renal disease are called in for regular check-ups. By keeping an eye on their conditions, rather than waiting for them to fall ill, problems are often prevented. It also ensures patients are an equal partner in decisions about their care.

The private side of Stowhealth is flourishing, with a range of health professionals from the area hiring out consulting rooms. Services available include reflexology, hypnotherapy, physiotherapy and osteopathy. There are also gym facilities and a large conference room hired out to outside groups and used for teaching as the practice has strong links with the University of East Anglia and local schools

Last year Stowhealth won the Guy Rotherham Award, a national award for outstanding work to improve services to patients. It beat entries from across UK for the acknowledgement from the Improvement Foundation at the NHS Alliance annual conference. Judges highlighted the practice's automated blood pressure monitor and scales which are available for patients to use in the waiting room.

Other waiting room innovations include an electronic self check-in machine and computers where patients can surf the internet for health-related websites, including Stowhealth's own site where people can order repeat prescriptions.

Dr Rudland said: “I understand people have fears about where health services are going and we invite patients in to talk about changes and projects.

“We have had patients on interview panels for staff before and had discussions with them before we set up the LTC clinic - we want patients to be involved with developments.”

36,000 GPs in the UK

Six years training is needed to qualify as a doctor and a further three years to train to become a GP

Four times a year is the average number of times Uk patients see their GP

1,750 patients are looked after by the average full-time GP

10 per cent of patients are referred by their GP to hospital departments

STOWHEALTH today said it was unclear on the future of its NHS services, amid speculation about GP practices turning private.

The Personal Medical Services (PMS) contract runs out on September 30 and the debt-ridden Suffolk Primary Care Trust (PCT) has not yet confirmed details of the new PMS contract.

If GPs in the area do not like to changes in the contract, they have two other choices - returning to the General Medical Services (GMS) contract or going private.

It is feared the new PMS contract will see less money for patient care.

GP Simon Rudland, a Stowhealth partner, said: “We joined the PMS contract as it was being actively promoted by the PCT at the time. The PCT encouraged it, saying it would allow GPs to recruit additional staff and deliver better services.

“We had targets to meet but it was flexible how we went about it. There were no downsides to it and we wish we could leave things how they are.

“We are unclear of the decisions we are being asked to make as we still don't know what the new PCT contract will look like.

“Our message to the community, which does probably have concerns at the moment, is that they can trust the doctors and staff here to do everything in their power to continue to deliver an excellent service.

“There's no reason we would want to go back on what we have achieved.

“There's a group of excellent doctors here which is why it's so irksome we are in such a pickle with these contracts.”

The PMS agreement, used at 46 of the 69 GP practices in Suffolk, pays GPs depending on needs in the area and how many targets it reaches.

The PCT said it was reviewing the contracts to introduce fairer payments and to make service improvements for patients.

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