Belfast Telegraph

We have a duty of care to ensure NHS is fighting fit

The health service is celebrating its 65th birthday. But it will have to change if it is to survive another 65 years, writes Ian Clements

People often talk about a golden age in society, where there was a slower pace, less stress; one in which neighbours knew your name, communities were patrolled by bobbies and all your healthcare was provided and managed by your family doctor.

While there is the danger of looking back with rose-coloured spectacles, there is no doubt the world is a different place from when I qualified as a GP in 1975.

It is true, 40 years ago GPs did have more time to get to know their patients and their families, often in their own home, establishing a relationship of trust and empathy.

It is now a world of technology, fast pace, high demands and less time – and health is not immune from those pressures.

However, it is also a world where there are better outcomes for patients due to advances in medicine.

Clinical professionals now work together in a more integrated way and patients have a wider range of choice and say in their healthcare.

And, while many things have changed, one thing that has remained constant is the need to put the patient and the family at the centre of all care.

While our system has served us well over the last 65 years, we know that it won't survive another 65 unless there are significant changes.

There are increasing demands and expectations from users of all services and we have already seen the signs of a system under pressure in the form of longer waits in emergency departments, or for outpatient and GP appointments.

That is why the direction set under Transforming Your Care is so important and it is vital that change is delivered in a planned and thorough way and is clinically led. Although GPs' central co-ordinating role is essential, it is no longer an option for the GP to be the sole guardian of a person's healthcare.

Integrated care partnerships will play a pivotal role in delivering changes. They will bring together doctors, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, hospital specialists, the community and voluntary sector, and service users to design and co-ordinate local health and social care services.

Better joined-up working and the use of technology, such as electronic care records, which give clinical professionals safe and secure access to a whole range of medical information in one place, should mean that patients should only have to tell their story once.

Engaging with patients, families and users to help design and improve the way services are delivered is essential. Patients tell me that they want to speedily access services close to home.

At the same time, there is a growing acceptance that they may have to travel further for access to care or treatment for complex problems. We need to have a debate about what this valued institution can and should realistically provide in the future; to make sure it survives into the future.

Patients and service users have a key role to play to make sure that the right services are used appropriately at the right time.

While today's fast-paced society may be a world away from the fictional Scottish Doctor Finlay and his Casebook, let's not lose the ethos of providing personal care.

Equally, we need to acknowledge that change is necessary, as medicine and healthcare finds new and better ways to improve our lives.

There are many challenges ahead. However, with clinical leadership, a health family willing to work together, support from patients and the community and voluntary sector, and a vision that puts patients's care at the heart of all plans, I am confident that the NHS will be around for another 65 years.

Belfast Telegraph


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