Staff recruitment and changing people’s lifestyles are some of the challenges ahead for West Norfolk’s health services.
Doctors on West Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group have made progress in integrating the area’s health services to improve patient care since taking over from the primary care trust nearly two years ago.
Group chairman Ian Mack has been pleased with the success of the first two years but says there is more work to do.
The group is facing challenges posed by an ageing population along with high rates of smoking, obesity and diabetes.
In some areas of Lynn more than 50 per cent of the population smokes, compared with a national average of 19 per cent.
And this is creating problems for the health service as people are beginning to suffer disabilities and illnesses at an earlier age that in other parts of Norfolk.
Men in this area are likely to have a disability free life until the age of 52 and it is 57 for women, compared with 61 and 64 respectively in Norwich and Waveney area.
Mr Mack said: “In this area we need to find new ways of giving people the opportunity to stop smoking.”
Another challenge is frailty, a clinical term referring to the body’s limited ability to rebalance itself as we age.
Lynn’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital has now introduced a frailty ward which aims to free up beds in other areas by preventing these patients being transferred onto four different wards during their stay.
Mr Mack said: “It is important to get patients to the right place early in their period of care and to get them discharged as soon as possible.
“That quality pathway must run alongside our community services, which are equipped to better care for people with frailty so we can pre-empt and stop admissions.
“The important thing is stop things developing and snowballing.”
This new ward is hoped to ease pressures on hospital’s A&E department, which has missed the four hour waiting target as major cases are waiting for a bed on a ward elsewhere in the hospital.
Mr Mack said it was important to improve patient flow and the CCG has made a number of investments, including a Red Cross service to help patients after they have been discharged.
He said: “National and international evidence shows that more beds are not the answer but how you use them and progress people through.The frailty ward should reduce the length of stay in hospital. We have the right team doing the right things at the right time to make sure older people are not in hospital for any longer that necessary.”
Staff recruitment and retention is vital to the long term future of the area’s health services.
West Norfolk is in a better position than other parts of the region in terms of GP numbers and potential retirements.
But the CCG is working with Health Education England to encourage more medical graduates into general practice rather than onto hospital training schemes and to encourage hospital doctors to become acute physicians.
Mr Mack said: “We have seen a growth of nurse practitioners and other types of clinicians in general practice and that is something which could be part of the solution.”
One of the successes of the CCG is the formation of the West Norfolk Alliance, which brings together different health services to work together more efficiently.
Mr Mack said: “We are working very hard to do all we can to maximise the quality of care and how it is provided and we do that by working with clinicians, managers and involving the public.”