Two pilot schemes aimed at providing improved urgent health care in Fenland have yet to start, with a lack of staff being blamed.
Following the threat last year to the future of the minor injuries units (MIUs) in Wisbech and Doddington hospitals the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) promised the introduction of more emergency care in recognition of the community’s support and the need for such a facility.
However, in an exclusive interview this week, Dr Gary Howsam, chairman of the CCG, confirmed that neither of the pilot schemes planned to provide Local Urgent Care Hubs at the North Cambs Hospital in Wisbech or Doddington Hospital have yet got underway.
They were due to start in May along with the pilot at the Princess of Wales Hospital in Ely – which has been introduced and is proving a major success in East Cambs.
However, Dr Howsam said a lack of medical staff had put the two Fenland pilots on hold but added the fact the pilot schemes have not yet started does not mean there is a renewed threat to the MIUs currently operating at the hospitals.
He said: “It is frustrating that the two Fenland pilots have not been able to go ahead because of a lack of staff availability. The LUCs aimed to make use of local GPs providing a doctor’s presence at the MIUs as part of a more joined-up, effective and efficient approach to primary care provision.
“Unfortunately that has not happened because of the lack of capacity of local GP practices. They are already under pressure from demand and they have not got any spare capacity to operate within the LUCs.
“The shortage of doctors nationally is well-documented but in Fenland the situation is even more serious. The CCG is trying to recruit more GPs to the area, but it is not an easy problem to solve.
“We know from the pilot scheme in Ely that the LUCs are a good idea. We have seen an increase in the numbers of people using them, which is good news as it cuts the numbers going to A&E – so that is encouraging, both clinically and financially. Now we have to increase staff capacity at GP practices in Fenland to enable the same to happen there.
“The GPs are supportive of the idea and want to be involved but they are currently spread too thinly and we need to remedy that situation.”
Despite the pilot schemes falling at the first hurdle Dr Howsam is adamant the MIUs are no longer under threat and will continue to operate.
“The consultation last year showed the groundswell of support for the MIUs and just how vital they are to the community. As a GP working in Fenland I recognise the need to keep them open and how valuable they are to people. We really do want to develop the services they provide and I want to assure people this is not about money, it is about a shortage of clinical staff.
“And I don’t want to demoralise the staff we do have. They do a fantastic job under difficult circumstances and I know they are as frustrated as everyone else about the challenges we face.
“In the meantime I would urge the public to help by using health services wisely. People can take the pressure off our GPs and emergency departments by thinking about the treatment they really need – sometimes a pharmacist or 111 can provide the advice required.”