Demonstrations expected as Orsett Hospital’s fate set to be decided on Friday in Chelmsford

GP services will collapse due to “excessive workloads and difficulty recruiting staff” – protestors are set to hear at an extraordinary meeting for health bosses looking to drive through changes to health care in mid and south Essex.

Health campaigners from across Essex will gather in Chelmsford this Friday to picket a joint meeting of the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in mid and south Essex.

The groups will discuss the recent public consultation into the future of health services locally.

The plan, developed by five CCGs in mid and south Essex, sets out restructuring changes to GP services.

Among the changes being discussed is the possible closure of Orsett Hospital.

The changes would see practices employing, or having direct access to, a much wider range of disciplines than is presently the case, including nurses, support workers, physiotherapists, clinical pharmacists and mental health specialists.

While GPs would remain accountable for the care delivered to the patients on their list, only patients who really need the ‘specialist generalist’ skills of a GP would be directly seen by them.

One in two people across mid and south Essex will not be able to get an appointment with primary care in three years if changes are not implemented, according Caroline Rassell, accountability officer for mid Essex CCG.

The Mid and South Essex Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP) says it is facing a “workforce crisis” in primary care – principally due to the significantly lower numbers of doctors and nurses per head than the national average.

The position is likely to get worse in the coming years due to an ageing primary care workforce.

It is expected that around 230 GPs, equivalent to about 30 per cent of the total, will be considering or will have already retired over the next few years.

Health Education England recently identified the retirement challenge in mid and south Essex as the “greatest in England”.

An executive summary of the changes planned to tackle the challenges facing the area states: “General practice in mid and south Essex is at a crossroads.

“We know that if we carry on as we are, with some of the lowest staffing levels in England, poor morale, excessive workload and difficulty recruiting the staff we need, practices – and individual GPs – will collapse and the quality and safety of the service we provide to local people will deteriorate.

“This is not a future anyone wants. That is why, working with practices and the LMCs across our STP, we have developed this strategy and our supporting narrative.

“We believe our plan has the potential to regenerate and revitalise primary care locally, reducing workload, especially for GPs, improving the service we offer to patients and making mid and south Essex a place where staff want to come and work.”

The meeting is also set to discuss proposals in concentrating specialist services in one place, thereby having gynaecological surgery and gynaecological cancer surgery at Southend Hospital, respiratory services for very complex lung problems to be located at Basildon Hospital and renal services for people with complex kidney disease to be located at Basildon Hospital.

Cardiology for complex heart problems are to stay in the existing Essex Cardiothoracic Centre for heart and lung problems at Basildon Hospital, gastroenterology services for people with complex gut and liver disease are to be at Broomfield Hospital and complex general surgery is to be at Broomfield Hospital.

However health campaigners have described the consultation as a ‘farce’.

“We believe the majority of people locally were unaware of the consultation, and unaware of the dangerous plans being proposed’, said Defend Our NHS Chelmsford spokesperson Andy Abbott.

“The real truth is that this is all about a further round of massive cuts, and selling off health services. The idea of accountable care organisations looms.”

He added: “Last year we fought and won the campaign to prevent Broomfield A&E from being downgraded.

“But alas we believe the prospect of a downgrade is back on the agenda, they are just going about it more deviously this time, and the merger into just the one hospital health trust makes this downgrade more likely.”

The STP says that it plans for “the majority of patients in need of emergency care to be treated initially at their local (or nearest) A&E and then, if needed, transferred to a specialist team, which may be in another hospital.”

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