‘Healthcare failing’ North Somerset as £10m lost every year

PUBLISHED: 09:00 13 July 2015

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UNDERFUNDED by £10million a year, an A&E service ‘in critical condition’ and out-of-hours services barely staffed – this is the state of North Somerset’s health service, just two years after it was overhauled.

Having overspent to the tune of £10million last year, North Somerset CCG forecasts another similar deficit during 2015-16 due to ‘increasing demand for healthcare’ – but will be required to pay any excess outgoings back, with £13million of cutbacks already required to pay off existing debts.

Meanwhile, A&E has been left in a ‘critical condition’ following ‘five years of deterioration’, and last year’s overcrowding problems labelled the ‘worst crisis in a decade’ by the group’s lead for urgent care, as waiting times spiralled beyond national targets throughout December.

People have been urged to visit their doctors to reduce unnecessary hospital overcrowding – but out-of-hours GP care is being left understaffed, without a single doctor on call in Weston as recently as last weekend.

The CCG was launched in early 2013 as part of a controversial redesign of the NHS, taking on large amounts of the responsibility – and significant debt – of its predecessor, North Somerset Primary Care Trust, while funding increases from the Coalition Government failed to keep up with rising needs.

Doctor Mary Backhouse, the CCG’s chairman, said last week ‘significant progress’ had been made with the group’s financial recovery plan but conceded the organisation ‘can’t keep cutting down’, and a CCG spokesman said if the required savings were not achieved ‘further action will be needed’.

Dr Backhouse said: “We have to have a financial recovery plan. NHS England has recognised we have made significant progress.

“It’s not just about the money but recognising quality counts. If someone has something done by the right person, at the right time, it’s better for them and for the health service.

“We can’t carry on cutting down and cutting down, the services we run are efficient.”

Savings will include new ways for GPs to access advice and guidance from hospitals without needing to refer patients, which would incur significant costs, and cutting hospital admissions by focusing on community-based services designed to keep frail adults at home.

At a conference for CCG stakeholders last week, several clinical leads within the group spoke of the need to keep patients out of hospital where possible; for instance, about 20 per cent of emergency admissions are believed to be unnecessary.

But the Mercury has learned the out-of-hours GP service, which replaces doctors’ surgeries from 6.30pm to 8am on weekdays and can act as an alternative to an A&E visit, has seen patients unable to access doctors outside of working hours with barely half of shifts being filled.

The Mercury understands Weston’s own out-of-hours service was left either closed or without trained doctors available for a prolonged period over the weekend of July 4-5, while on Friday North Somerset had just one out-of-hours doctor available for several hours.

An NHS source, who asked not to be named, told the Mercury: “The situation is becoming so dire, it’s in the public’s interest to understand the risk of the failing healthcare within the NHS.”

BrisDoc, which provides out-of-hours care for North Somerset, Bristol and South Gloucestershire CCGs, told the Mercury measures were in place to ensure minimum staffing levels were met, but conceded constraints around clinical staff were ‘concerning’.

A spokesman said: “It is well reported that primary care faces resourcing challenges nationally, and while the out-of-hours services shares this challenge, BrisDoc consistently delivers a safe and resilient service.

“There are undoubtedly pressures in providing clinical resource, but BrisDoc has the ability to flex and redeploy staff across the region to maintain agreed minimum staffing levels.

“There are strict controls around these minimum staffing levels with a clear escalation policy and implementation of an on-call system to mitigate any shortfall.”

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