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Launch of GP networks an ‘endorsement of what we’ve been doing for years’

NHS England has announced an exciting new way of working that will improve the way family doctor services work together – the first major service change to primary care in a generation.

All GP practices now work together with their neighbouring surgeries as part of ‘primary care networks’, allowing them to join forces to target their own unique priorities and provide better services in the community.

But for people living on the Fylde Coast, this is nothing new. Practices in Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre have been working together for several years now with some real improvements to health and wellbeing already being seen as a result.

Dr Amanda Doyle OBE, chief clinical officer for NHS Blackpool and NHS Fylde and Wyre Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), said: “The national move towards primary care networks is a real endorsement of what we have been doing here for some years now.

“Practices are working together and involving their communities in meaningful discussions to really transform the way services are delivered at a local level.”

In Fleetwood, the primary care network has brought together general practice, community nursing, drug and alcohol and many other services to work in a more integrated way, which has helped improve health and wellbeing locally.

The town, which has a population of about 30,000, has significant health inequalities and traditionally poor health outcomes. The prevalence for all major long-term conditions is significantly above national averages and there are extremely high rates of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

Dr Mark Spencer, from the Mount View Practice, said: “Just five years ago we faced a severe GP recruitment and retention crisis with only eight GPs remaining from what would normally be at least 16 across the town. There was a genuine risk of collapse of general practice in Fleetwood.

“However through the three GP practices working together that situation has been completely turned around and there has also been significant integration across all primary care services, as well as genuine resident empowerment and a vibrant social prescribing pathway via Healthier Fleetwood.

“Developing a primary care network in Fleetwood has allowed us to move away from the traditional medical model of delivering care to one that is resident-led, socially driven and focused as much on wellness as it is on managing illness.”

The Blackpool Central West primary care network consists of four GP practices situated primarily just behind the promenade. The area has a high level of patients with complex health needs and a higher number of patients who regularly move around.

In order to improve care for some of those most complex patients, the practices joined forces to develop neighbourhood care teams consisting of community matrons, district nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, wellbeing workers, social workers and mental health specialists.

This allowed for regular multidisciplinary team meetings to decide the best way to look after some of the most complex patients and better monitoring of their long-term conditions, as well as timely referrals to other services when required.

The improvements have been clear for all to see, including local patients. Debra Scott is a member of the patient participation group (PPG) at Adelaide Street Family Practice. She said: “It’s great to hear about all the good work being done by our practice and the others in our area.

“Their joining forces and working together can only be a good thing for patients in Blackpool.”

For more information on primary care networks nationally, visit https://bit.ly/2KN4QRf