Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Alice Miles on NHS reforms - Go to Cumbria

Rejected by the BMA, the Royal College of Nursing, Royal College of Surgeons, physiotherapists, unions, health charities such as DiabetesUK and the British Heart Foundation, not to mention Shirley Williams and the patients themselves writes Alice Thomson in today's Times(£) about the Coalition's proposed NHS reforms. A pretty convincing 'no' you might think. Not quite. Go to Cumbria she urges.

Mr Lansley has been unable to express his plans clearly but in Cumbria they are already working. GPs have control of budgets, they have virtually abolished primary care trusts and, crucially, patients receive better service.

The reforms in Cumbria came about because of a huge funding crisis several years ago when the local primary care trust ended up £37 million in the red. It planned to close all nine of Cumbria's community hospitals to make up the deficit. But then a woman named Sue Page was appointed as Chief Executive and she decided on a new approach - allowing doctors to get involved in decision-making so that they could keep patients out of the two main hospitals and save money.

Putting GPs in charge of a patient's progress allowed more treatment at home and less in expensive hospital beds. Slowly GPs took charge of the local hospitals and finances and by next month they will manage 97 per cent of the £800 million primary care budget. Since they took over there hasn't been one case of drug-resistant clostridium difficile in the nine community hospitals and the average stay has dropped from 36 days to 10.

One GP, Peter Weaving, says: "Its gold standard service on your doorstep, cheaper and better." He is convinced that when his colleagues see the benefits, they will understand the changes.

The first really convincing piece I have read about the Coalition's NHS reforms.