The population in our region continues to change. Our ageing population is made up of many ‘young elderlies,’ who have high expectations from life but often complex healthcare needs that are resource intensive and delivered in a traditional way, often in hospital setting.
The NHS has continued to respond to these increasing demands by deploying more healthcare professionals, equipment, and even buildings – reactionary changes that are not a part of a strategic development.
These unplanned developments often result in long waiting lists, avoidable long-distance travel to hospital, busy car parks, crowded corridors, full wards, and too often, the cancellation of planned surgical procedures.
This is unsustainable. It is time to reflect and make radical changes. We now have a perfect once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to completely restructure our healthcare system.
Preventative care outside the hospital sits very well with my long-term ambition to have a truly integrated healthcare system, where care is given close to home by the most suitable clinician, who is a part of multidisciplinary team.
For example, my scoliosis patient should come to hospital for surgery only. Everything else can be done through a clinical network closer to home. It is an illogical use of time for a person to travel from Barrow-in-Furness to spend just 30 minutes with me in Chorley! I am sure we can find similar examples in all specialities.
So much more can be done from home or in local healthcare premises without requiring patients to travel long distances prior to surgery. We can also develop far more capacity for day-case surgery, creating services that are much more convenient for patients, less prone to disruption at peak times and more cost-effective.
As a surgeon who spends a lot of time on wards, I know that currently we have a long way to go in many areas in improving the privacy and dignity of our patients. However hard staff try and whatever we do to the existing buildings, they are never going to be ideal. Where we have the ability to plan new services, we need them to create the best possible environment as we know this improves patient outcomes.
I hope that local people will look beyond individual hospitals to see a joined-up healthcare system across the region, working together irrespective of where they live, giving them equal access to the same high standard of services.
For staff it is extremely important to design a system based on future professional development, breaking down traditional barriers between roles to help individuals reach their full potential. In my role already I have seen the way members of the team thrive on being released from a rigid hierarchy so they can take on greater responsibility. Staff education and research is fundamental to this professional development. A properly centralised education, training and research department for Lancashire and South Cumbria, linked to universities and research bodies will make us a global player. This will attract top talent and improve the health of our population too.
Working together, there is so much the New Hospitals Programme can achieve to transform the whole health system in our area and make a big difference to outcomes for patients for generations to come.
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