'Deprived' rural residents concerned over access to healthcare in North Somerset

PUBLISHED: 13:00 31 October 2016

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Residents have spoken of 'continuing difficulties' in accessing health and social care services in North Somerset villages, following a survey by Healthwatch North Somerset.

The new-look Healthwatch team.The new-look Healthwatch team.

The health and social care consumer organisation released its Village Voices report this week, highlighting concerns raised by people living in rural parts of the district.

The report highlighted significant disparity between the views held by people across the area, with three villages in the Mercury patch – Banwell, Kingston Seymour and Wrington – ranking among the most deprived in the country, despite a ‘pattern of relative wealth in rural areas in North Somerset’.

The report found village patients had a number of concerns over access to healthcare, with more than a quarter of negative responses highlighting difficulty booking appointments, while almost 15 per cent complained of transport issues which hindered GP access.

However, the quality of care at village GP surgeries was largely praised by survey respondents.

How it works

Healthwatch divided North Somerset’s villages into four groups, based on their location, and visited a number of community events to survey people over their thoughts on the services they use.

The groups were:

n Blagdon, Butcombe, Dundry, Felton, Winford and Flax Bourton.

n Banwell, Winscombe, Hutton, Bleadon.

n Sandford, Congresbury, Yatton, Wick St Lawrence and Puxton.

n Brockley, Churchill, Langford, Redhill and Wrington.

Quality of care praised

The majority of compliments given by survey respondents related to the quality, competence and professionalism of healthcare services, praising ‘excellent and considerate care’.

Community transport services, such as Churchill and Langford Minibus Society and Wrington Minibus Society were also commended for their work by survey respondents, with one saying ‘the people who organise the community transport are very good’.

‘Continuing difficulties’ for people in rural areas

Though the quality of service was largely complimented in the survey, many village residents are concerned over the access to their healthcare services – with appointments often scarce and transport not always available.

The availability of GP or nurse appointments caused the most complaints among survey respondents, with some saying ‘appointments are very hard to come by’.

In total, 32 per cent of complaints shared concerns over difficulties in securing an appointment.

One person told Healthwatch: “My surgery has stopped opening in the afternoons. It’s a very limited service now.”

Fifteen per cent of respondents felt they had trouble booking appointments due to old age, lack of mobility and ‘transport being inadequate’.

Some questioned the availability of public transport.

One respondent said: “My wife relies on me to take her. There has been no bus service that has gone near the surgery for two years now.”

Another added: “If I can’t get an appointment on the day the bus comes through the village, I have to get a taxi.”

Negative feedback was also received over waiting times, help with disability or dementia needs and pharmacy and medication services.

Healthwatch’s view

Summarising the findings, the Healthwatch report concluded: “These are not new issues; they represent continuing difficulties for local people in rural areas accessing health care and which have previously been raised in Healthwatch North Somerset Community Transport Report.

“Solutions need to take into account the impact of the current merging or federating of rural GP practices and the ageing population of rural areas.”

Healthwatch recommends

n “Twenty-five per cent of respondents reported they had difficulty accessing appointments. We recommend GP surgeries increase appointment availability of doctors and nurses, especially in branch surgeries.”

n “Almost 15 per cent of respondents informed us they had difficulty getting to appointments due to transport problems. We recommend that federated surgeries ensure consideration is given to a patients’ ability to travel and offer appointments at surgeries nearest to that patient’s home.”

n “Merged surgeries with a large population reach consider providing a minibus service for those patients who are identified to have access issues 
or subsidise the community car schemes.”

Reaction
A spokesman for North Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group said: “We are particularly aware of the transport issues for patients and understand that is an ongoing concern.

“We note the recommendations
 made and will ensure that this 
report is highlighted at the Primary Care Joint Commissioning Working Group.”

North Somerset Community Partnership also commented on the survey. Its spokesman said: “Having received the report it is clear that more can be done.

“North Somerset Community Partnership will respond by working with general practices in rural areas to see how services can be delivered closer to patients’ homes.”

Your view
Is Healthwatch’s report an accurate reflection of the state of health services where you live?

Are there other issues which the report has overlooked? Or are these findings an unfair assessment of North Somerset’s NHS services?

Tell us what you think. Write to Weston, Worle & Somerset Mercury, 32 Waterloo Street, Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, BS23 1LW or email newsdesk@westonmercury.co.uk

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