Chairman's Comments

A Happy New Year for health and social care in Lancashire?

2017 will be a make or break year for the NHS and Local Government, says Mike Wedgeworth, Chair of Healthwatch Lancashire.

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In 2016, we produced reports which showed that:

  • Accident and Emergency departments are under huge pressure, due both to increased demand and staff shortages
  • Lancashire has way less than its fair share of GPs, with the result that some patients must wait days before they can get even emergency appointments.
  • Dentistry services for people living in residential care are inadequate
  • Homeless people struggle to get proper health treatment
  • Patients are very unclear about what is meant by an Urgent Care Centre, and wondered how different it was from and Accident and Emergency Department.
  • Some care homes were not meeting basic standards.

If all this sounds a bit gloomy, we must stress that our work has also drawn attention to some excellent practice, with especially strong approval ratings for the compassionate care provided by nurses, doctors and care workers.

Work planned for 2017 will see us continuing to talk to patients and service users, in co-operation with neighbouring Healthwatch, to pass on completely independent advice to GP’s, hospitals, pharmacies, dentists, providers of residential care and others about the good and the not so good services they provide.

But the negatives underline what many are calling the ‘crisis’ in health and social care: not enough doctors and specialists, a surge in demand, hospital deficits, ‘bed blocking’ by patients fit to be discharged but with nowhere to go, and woefully inadequate funding for social care.

Whilst the political debate surges around us, Healthwatch is pleased to be able to contribute to discussions among experts about what can be done within existing budgets. This work, inevitably a bit ‘underground’ until firm proposals emerge, is under the less-than-catchy titled ‘ The Lancashire and South Cumbria Sustainability and Transformation Plan’.

Such plans, which cover all of the country, have been condemned by some as ‘secretive’ and likely to result in hospital closures and even longer waits to see a GP.

But the Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria Plan has been published, and readers will see that there are no proposals to reduce the number of hospital beds.

That does not mean that there will not be changes. Faced with a shortfall of over

£500 million, something must be done.

But Healthwatch is concerned that the patients and service users who are the reason for our existence are likely to find the Plan difficult to understand. And, then, when concrete proposals do emerge, the general public may very well rise up in fierce protest.

A straightforward guide to the Plan is being prepared by Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria, and local Healthwatch are combining to talk with the public, first to test whether it is understandable, and influence and shape the document as well as further public information materials. Ten sessions are planned for January and February at venues across Lancashire and South Cumbria.

For more information on attending these workshops please contact Sam Parker at sam.parker@healthwatchlancashire.co.uk