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Health watchdog "concerned" by lack of reassurance

Health watchdog "concerned" by lack of reassurance

Published at 6:21pm 19th December 2016. (Updated at 6:30pm 19th December 2016)

A health watchdog in North Yorkshire is concerned by a "lack of detail" in plans for health services over the next five years.

Senior members of North Yorkshire County Council's Scrutiny of Health Committee held a high-profile, cross-party summit with NHS bosses last week to seek reassurances about provision.

They wanted more detail about the plans, the finances and, in particular, reassurances that there would be no further downgrading or closure of any more hospital and community health services.

County Councillor Jim Clark, Chairman of the Scrutiny of Health Committee, said: "We are concerned by the lack of detail coming forward. Whilst it is accepted that the plans are still under development, we had expected there to be a better sense of the potential impact on health services in the county, in particular how funding is going to be moved from large hospitals to local, community-based services."

Committee members emphasised the importance of consultation on the future of services at hospitals in Ripon and Whitby, following the recent closure of the Lambert Memorial Hospital in Thirsk.

Councillor Clark added: "Surely, at this stage in the planning process and with the NHS just about to sign off on contracts for the next two years, the NHS has a better idea of how it is going to meet the multi-billion pound savings targets it has and which services are likely to be downgraded or closed."

The watchdog has already raised "grave concerns" about NHS England's plans to reorganise the delivery of NHS services and the impact this would have on a large rural county like North Yorkshire.

Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs), as they are known, cover 44 different areas of the country and are intended to accelerate the implementation of an NHS five-year efficiency plan, as well as developing new models of care and improving health and well-being.

Councillor Clark said: "Every time there is a reorganisation of the NHS, North Yorkshire ends up worse off. For NHS planners, the county is always an afterthought. Only recently, we saw Craven district missed off entirely from a health map.

"The future may well be the delivery of specialist services in Middlesbrough, Leeds, Bradford and Hull, but this cannot be at the expense of community services, which are proven to save money, to enable people to live in their own homes for longer and to reduce the burden on A&E, hospitals and GPs.

"Something has to be done to make the NHS financially viable in the long term, in the face of rising demand and people living longer with more complex health needs.

"The current approach, however, is unlikely to deliver the long-term savings, improvements in the quality of care and outcomes for patients that are sought."

Meanwhile, the watchdog has criticised funding cuts to community pharmacies as "another blow to health services in the county".

There has been a 4% reduction this year, with a further reduction of 3.4% next year and more cuts expected after that.

In the first two years, the more remote pharmacies will be protected from the full effect of funding reductions, but there is uncertainty about what level of protection will be in place in future.

At this stage, there are no planned closures of community pharmacies, but the services that they provide are likely to change.

Concerns have been raised that some pharmacies will have to cut opening hours and staffing levels, end free services such as the home delivery of medicines, reduce investment in facilities and services, and reduce stock held on the premises, meaning that people may not be able to get the medicines they need there and then.

It's also likely to affect GPs and A&E departments, as patients who would have previously used their community pharmacy could end up being forced to go elsewhere.

Jack Davies, Chief Executive Officer of Community Pharmacy North Yorkshire, said: "These cuts have been imposed by the Government without listening to the concerns of pharmacists. The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee unanimously rejected the package on 14 October 2016, but the Government pressed on regardless.

"There are real concerns that from April 2018, when the Pharmacy Access Scheme ends and all community pharmacies feel the full force of the programme of cuts, pharmacies in the more rural and sparsely populated areas will be at risk."