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Cuban-style health care for Grimethorpe

By Matthew Beard

A former pit worker is to bring Cuban-style health care, administered by Arthur Scargill's daughter, to Grimethorpe, the mining community immortalised on screen by the film Brassed Off.

The Oaks Park primary care centre, built at a cost of £3m, is the phoenix that has risen out of the ashes of the closure of the Grimethorpe colliery in South Yorkshire. For the locals, its grand opening this month was an event to compare with the sudden rise to fame of the local brass band.

Built with the backing and input of the Scargill family, it is hoped that the Oaks Park initiative, which will provide one-stop services from benefits advice to chiropody, will inspire leftists nationwide at a time when local healthcare is increasingly fashionable.

Closure of the Grimethorpe pit in 1993 brought with it a range of ills: Grimethorpe was once the second "sickest" British town behind Glasgow. In the early 1990s, the community suffered the stigma of being the second-most deprived community in the UK behind Brixton.

Since then there has been an upturn in fortunes, which many trace to the 1996 black comedy film starring Ewan McGregor, Tara Fitzgerald and Pete Postlethwaite.

The Primary Oaks scheme is the brainchild of Jim Logan, Arthur Scargill's son-in-law and the one-time Grimethorpe colliery manager, who made a study of the Cuban health system. According to Mr Logan, Fidel Castro's health reforms provide a model that the Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, would do well to follow. The Cuban healthcare system is recognised not only as one of the best in the developing world, but also as better in some aspects than those in the developed world.

"It is a one-stop shop that is done better in Cuba than anywhere else," Mr Logan said. "It is the exact same thing that the British Government is trying to do, downsizing district hospitals into primary care. Cuba has been doing it for 15 years.

"The whole idea has been to improve public health by offering a range of primary care treatments locally rather than sending people to hospital."

Dr Margaret Scargill advised on the centre's design as one of its six resident GPs. Mr Logan added: "The Cubans may have a struggling economy, but their healthcare system is very impressive: there is one doctor to 800 patients, compared with about one to 2,000 in this country."

The centre brings together a range of NHS services and caters for wider social needs, such has housing and benefits. Its GPs are familiar with the health problems of a former mining community, such as respiratory diseases and heart problems. The centre also provides chiropody, dental services, ophthalmology, pharmacy, dietetics, midwives, community psychiatric services, and physiotherapy.

At the root of the project is a belief in uniting the provision of health and social care. Mr Logan suggested to Barnsley Health Service and Barnsley Council Social Services Department a proposal to amalgamate the two care sectors. But his ideas were turned down.

Undeterred, he went ahead and drew up plans for such a centre, deciding to fund the project himself.

Belfast Telegraph


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