Responding to the coronavirus pandemic, access to GP services and ongoing work to improve health and wellbeing will be discussed by councillors next week.
In her annual report, Amanda Healy, County Durham’s Director of Public Health, describes the pandemic as one of the greatest public health challenges in living memory.
She says it has highlighted the crucial role Public Health teams play in protecting people from infectious diseases, as well as the fact that health and wellbeing is everyone’s responsibility, with individuals, communities, businesses and organisations all contributing to slowing the spread of the virus.
The report, which will be presented to Durham County Council’s Cabinet for approval on Wednesday 18 November, outlines steps the council and its partners are taking to protect residents and to ensure vital services and ongoing work to improve health and wellbeing can continue. The Local Outbreak Control Plan is detailed, along with the advice and support offered to residents, businesses, schools and other organisations across the county.
It also looks at work undertaken to address mental health issues and the support offered by County Durham Together. This is a community hub set up by the council to help socially vulnerable people. At the peak of the pandemic, more than 200 council employees and 80 NHS and Wellbeing for Life staff were redeployed to the hub, helping thousands of residents to access essential supplies and providing a listening ear to those feeling alone.
The report also provides an update on progress made against the county’s seven public health priorities, with a focus on giving every child the best start in life and providing good jobs and places to live, learn and play. The other five priorities are: promoting positive behaviours; providing a better quality of life through integrated health and care services; promoting and measuring positive mental health; providing high-quality drug and alcohol services; and encouraging healthy workforces.
Central to these priorities is the recognition that communities play an important role in their own development. By drawing on people’s strengths and empowering them to make decisions about health issues, services can be tailored to suit each community’s needs.
Key achievements include:
• Undertaking a Health Impact Assessment of the council’s housing strategy to identifying measures that can improve access to quality housing, mitigate against financial barriers and prevent against accidents or injuries. Health is also now a cross-cutting theme of the strategy.
• Drafting licencing conditions setting out expected standards to improve the quality of housing for tenants in deprived areas.
• Piloting a cold-related ill-health project offering elderly and vulnerable people new or replacement boilers, home insulation and fuel energy advice.
• Supporting small businesses to reduce mental health stigma, including training more than 80 employees to become Mental Health First Aiders.
• Reducing the number of pregnant women still smoking at the time of delivery across County Durham from 17.4 per cent to 15.8 per cent.
• The Growing Healthy 0-5 Health Visiting services team in County Durham and Darlington was awarded the UNICEF Baby Friendly Gold award.
Cllr Lucy Hovvels, the council’s Cabinet member for adults and health, said: “This year has been incredibly difficult, and I would like to express my deepest sympathies to anyone who has lost a friend or loved one to coronavirus. We are working hard to support residents through this difficult time and remain committed to delivering the services people rely on. Going forward, the council and our partners will continue to focus on our key priorities to help improve the health and wellbeing of all County Durham residents.”
At the same meeting, councillors will receive a report from the Adults Wellbeing and Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (AWHOSC) reviewing the provision of GP services. It follows concerns expressed by patients, surgery staff and councillors about a number of applications to merge or close GP surgeries in parts of the county.
Taking into account the extent of GP coverage, staffing, skills, appointment capacity, none-attendance rates and the challenges of the pandemic, the review makes a series of recommendations. These include:
• Developing primary care networks and investing in additional workforces, while promoting peer support across GP practises when staffing pressures affect the availability of appointments.
• Using and promoting digital technology as an alternative to face-to-face appointments to increase access to primary care services.
• Advising the Care Quality Commission to refer to local authority and Healthwatch reports when assessing the effectiveness of GP service provision.
• Developing an integrated transport solution to address challenges faced by patients to access appointments.
• Developing an effective marketing campaign to raise awareness and promote the availability of GP appointments via the NHS 111 service.
Cllr John Robinson, chair of AWHOSC, said: “Access to effective, high-quality primary care services is crucial to improving health and wellbeing and reducing health inequalities. With an increasing population, high levels of deprivation and the added pressures of the coronavirus pandemic, demand is likely to increase, and it is vital we have enough GPs and health professionals with the right skills to meet the challenge.
“The recommendations we have made seek to address this and ensure all County Durham residents can access a GP appointment when they need it.”