New health body is ready to meet the challenges facing Harrogate

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Reporter Victoria Prest meets those in charge of the new Harrogate and Rural District Clinical Commisioning Group to find out the future of our health service.

The Harrogate district is plagued by a heavy drinking culture among young people and loneliness among the older generation, the area’s new health chiefs have said.

Alcohol abuse which leaves young people more vulnerable to drink and drug problems and hikes up the number of road traffic accidents is among the biggest challenges faced by the new body responsible for Harrogate district’s health services.

The social isolation blighting many of the district’s older people puts a further strain on the health services, the leaders of Harrogate’s new Clinical Commissioning Group have said.

The Harrogate and Rural District Clinical Commissioning Group (HaRD CCG) took over responsibility for commissioning most hospital care across the district on April 1. It is run by a governing body including Ripon GP Dr Alistair Ingram - now the body’s clinical chair - and chief officer Amanda Bloor.

Alcohol abuse and isolation are problems the new CCG will have to face.

Dr Ingram said: “It is not uncommon for GPs to visit patients at home and find them to be very, very lonely.”

The problem is not confined to older people living in geographically isolated villages, he added, and alcohol abuse is a cultural issue which leaves younger people vulnerable to many more problems.

And besides this the Harrogate district, along with many others across the country, faces growing demand for health services and a higher than average proportion of older people in the population, which leads to higher numbers of people living with long term and complex medical conditions including dementia.

Ms Bloor added: “Health outcomes in Harrogate are very good, because it is a more affluent area.

“But it is not without its pockets of deprivation.”

The run up to the new CCG’s takeover has been marred by wrangles over a financial deficit left behind by the old health body in charge of the area – the North Yorkshire and York PCT.

Out of a total £12m funding black hole left by the PCT, the Harrogate group has inherited a £1.73m deficit it will be forced to pay back.

And although a recently announced 2.3 per cent funding boost will mean the CCG is not out of pocket as it tries to pay back the deficit, Ms Bloor said, the financial burden will mean the health body cannot invest in any new facilities for Harrogate in its first year.

But, the CCG has pledged to maintain its services while it pays back the debt.

Ms Bloor added: “Patients will not notice any difference locally.

“The whole focus of the CCG is to be more local and more responsive to local needs.”

When the CCG can afford to invest its priority will be boosting services to help people stay at home and avoid going to hospital, Dr Ingram added.

“Patients don’t like going into hospital, and when they do go they don’t want to stay long.

“There will always be a need for hospital treatment but we need to make sure the people using hospital beds are the most appropriate people.”

With growing numbers of people living with long term conditions, Dr Ingram wants to see more people treated at home.

“People are living a lot longer, and there is more we can do in primary care, where 20 years ago they would have to be referred to hospital.”

And high quality care at home is even more important for patients with dementia, he added.

“It is distressing enough being admitted to hospital, but when it is an elderly person with memory problems, that is even worse.”

Along with Dr Ingram, the CCG’s governing body includes five practising GPs from across the district.

Dr Ingram decided to become involved in the body’s work when it became obvious that GPs would be responsible for much more of the health service’s management.

“When the government’s white paper first came out we could see what was going to happen.

“I am a great believer that if you are involved in something you can make a difference. We are so close to the patients and hear their stories – that provides a great insight.”