New Out of Hours health service in Suffolk

On April 1st responsibility for the Out of Hours doctors and dental service passes to Harmoni Healthcare. Yesterday I went to a presentation by the company at which various speakers outlined the way in which they will be implementing the service. The contract is for 5 years and will cover all of Suffolk except Waveney and the area covered by the Bildeston GP practice, which runs its own out of hours service. Five Suffolk GPs will be on the Board and the clinical lead post for the service in the County will be a job share between Dr. Roy Steiner from Ipswich and Dr. Chris Browning from Lavenham. There were a number of reassuring factors in the presentations which I outline below.The company was founded as a GP cooperative in 1996 and now provides support to more than 20 Primary Care Trusts with 7 million patients. They also run a number of GP led health centres, including one in Colchester.Their vision is to:

  • Treat patients as family
  • Treat staff as they would wish to be treated themselves  How do they select doctors? Given the concerns around the death of David Gray at the hands of Dr Ubani, the German locum, a number of members of the audience were anxious to find out how doctors working for the service would be selected and screened. At present the service in Suffolk relies to a great extent on agency doctors. Those who work directly for Harmoni are interviewed and clinically assessed. They have agreed that the agency will go through the same process. On the use of doctors from elsewhere in Europe, they stipulate that if doctors have EU medical qualifications that they are proficient in English and have a reference from a UK GP practice. They are aiming to encourage more local GPs to staff the service. Access to patient notes: One of the major concerns raised by members of the public is that out of hours doctors do not have access to their notes and medication records. Harmoni will have their own database which includes patient notes. It will be up to GPs to decide which of their patients is most likely to need the out of hours service and therefore whether they need to share information with the service. The database is web based system and GPs will be able upload patient notes. The system is encrypted for security and password protected. After Harmoni have seen a patient they will transfer the data to the patient’s GP by 8am the following morning. Every GP practice has been offered an individual visit to explain the service.  Locations: they are planning to set up a number of new bases as well as using existing centres like Wickham Market. The list is as follows: Ipswich Hospital fracture clinic, West Suffolk hospital fracture clinic, Walnutree hospital in Sudbury, the new Hartismere health centre, Newmarket community hospital, Wickham Market, Aldeburgh Community hospital, Felixstowe Community hospital. There will also be centres in Mildenhall and Stowmarket, but I am not sure of the locations of these. Riverside Centre in Ipswich will not be used. The call centre will be based at Ransomes Europark in a new building, where there will be meeting and training facilities, but no access for patients. Normally patients will ring their own GP practice and be transferred straight through. For dental services they will ring their own dental surgery (if they have one) and will be given a number to ring. If they have no dental surgery there will be an 0300 number to ring. Monitoring of quality of service: NHS Suffolk will have monthly meetings with Harmoni. They also have their internal performance indicators which are reported regularly to their regional director.In conclusion the company said they were determined to offer a better service than that provided by Take Care Now and my perception was that they seem to have the right values. As someone said after the meeting, however, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating!

Pylons – the saga continues

My group is currently preparing our response to National Grid. I was very disappointed last week that the Conservatives at Suffolk County Council continued with their backing of the proposed route through the Dedham Vale AONB.

The public meeting with National Grid on Monday 15th Feb at Hintlesham Community Hall was packed. The most depressing part of the evening was hearing National Grid saying over and over that they had to consider cost first. They would therefore give no commitment to underground the wires through the AONB if Corridor 2 is their chosen route.

Better news is that the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) have advised National Grid that the company has provided insufficient information on the alternatives to pylons in Somerset. On their website they say that National Grid has failed to explain to local communities the environmental, cost and technical implications of undergrounding the line and/or the undersea route. the IPC also say “The approach (being taken by National Grid) could be seen as predetermining the choice of routes and cloud the approach to all subsequent consultation”.

The Dedham Vale Society has also put in a very robust response to National Grid:

Babergh pylon decision

First I just want to clear up one issue. I am not in favour of building pylons on any of the proposed routes in the beautiful South Suffolk countryside, even though one of my parishes (Burstall) has opted for Corridor 4. Unfortunately Suffolk County Council has identified Corridor 2b as the “least worst” route in terms of environmental damage and has suggested that there be undergrounding in the most sensitive areas, like the Dedham Vale and Stour Valley. There is a major flaw in this argument. A rough calculation shows that this mixture of over and underground on Corridor 2 would cost National Grid around three times more than overhead on Corridor 4. National Grid’s argument has been that they need to choose the cheapest option. The logical conclusion is that National Grid say that 2b is too expensive and go for Corridor 4 which they view as being the least constrained. Which is absolutely not what I want to happen – and nor do the parishes along Corridors 3 and 4. It has been my view that we should all stand together and argue for alternative options including underground and undersea. Only by showing strength will we get National Grid to reconsider. 

This morning Babergh District Council met to discuss their position on National Grid’s proposals. Representatives of the parishes were allowed to speak on behalf of each of the corridors as well as on an undergrounding option. Then local councillors spoke, before members of the Strategy committee debated the issue. It was a long debate and some progress was made, in that Corridor 2 was removed from the category of being the “least worst” option. Nigel Bennett made the very valid point that agreeing Corridor 2 would be agreeing to open up South Suffolk as a transmission route for the future and Martyn Booth eloquently argued that all options should be rejected. Richard Kemp said that in this high tech age overhead pylons were a “horse and cart solution”. Michael Miller put forward some amended wording and in the end a compromise was reached, which effectively removes Corridor 2 as a preferred option whilst strongly arguing against the other three corridors.

In the end National Grid have us all over a barrel. They have put forward proposals which are not acceptable and are firmly rooted in the last century. What is more they will not provide enough capacity for Wave 3 offshore wind.

On the evening of Monday 15th I am chairing a debate at Hintlesham Community Hall. I hope we can have a constructive discussion with National Grid. On Thursday 18th we debate the issue again at Suffolk County Council after my group requested it be considered again.

No change to council structure in Suffolk – yet

I was surprised to find out by email that there is to be no change to council structures in Suffolk. Today’s announcement was sent to me by my own party sources. I am still waiting to hear officially from my own council! Whilst all purpose councils are to be created for Norwich and Exeter, we await the setting up of a “constitutional convention” so that local councils can discuss the future of our County with our MPs. Oh joy!

What a waste of time and money. Three years of hard work has come to nothing. The likelihood of councils reaching a consensus agreement in Suffolk is about as likely as another US moonlanding.

Tories opt for pylon route through AONB

It is hard to believe that Suffolk County Council Conservatives are backing another row of pylons through the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Whilst making noises about undergrounding and undersea options they are failing to stand up for the Suffolk countryside. Surely the landscapes captured by Constable and Gainsborough deserve better protection than this?

They say in their recommendations that “Corridor 2b would cause the lease environmental damage” but this is the very route that goes through the AONB and there can be no guarantee that National Grid will consider undergrounding either the AONB section or the very sensitive and picturesque Stour Valley section. Of course we don’t want pylons along any of the corridors but to imply that Corridor 2b is the least damaging route is ludicrous. We have now asked that the matter be considered again at the County Council meeting on Feb 18th.

Some points to consider:

  1. Somerset County Council has not chosen either of the two corridors proposed by National Grid. See for information on the Somerset anti-pylon campaign.
  2. The proposed new 400kv pylon route will not be needed until the end of this decade as neither the new nuclear reactors at Sizewell or Phase 2 of the Greater Gabbard offshore windfarm will come on stream until then. This gives time to consider other options like a high voltage DC undersea supergrid as described on the Stour Valley Underground website
  3. When the recently announced Wave 3 offshore windfarms are built there will not be enough capacity to carry the power through the proposed new pylon route. So the current proposals are only a short term solution.
  4. Four of the five campaign groups/countryside organisations want undergrounding on any chosen corridor. These are the Dedham Vale Society, Colne-Stour Countryside Association, Stour Valley Underground and Bury not Blight, who presented a petition of more than 300 signatures to Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet meeting yesterday.
  5. Braintree District Council has already rejected all four overhead options and asked for undergrounding instead. What a pity Suffolk County Council are not inclined to do the same. It is time to stand up and be counted on this issue! Babergh District Council consider this matter at their meeting on February 11th.

Bramford to Twinstead Pylon consultation latest

First of all if you support undegrounding of electricity cables instead of pylons please sign the No. 10 petition:

Also I have changed my survey question (on the left) so please respond if you have a view.

I attended two meetings last week which debated pylon routes. Burstall Parish Council on Monday opted unanimously for Corridor 4, having listened first to the views of their residents. They are very much aware that the Groton Pylon Alliance have opted for Corridor 2 and clearly want to defend themselves.

My view remains that I would only accept undergrounding or an undersea route but I also have a duty to support my constituents. I am completely unaffected personally by these routes as I live miles away but I care passionately about the people I represent.

On Thursday I attended the Groton Pylon Alliance meeting. It was a packed meeting and most people had to stand all evening as there were very few chairs. During the presentation the GPA gave a number of reasons for rejecting Corridors 3 and 4, including highly valued landscapes, “intervisibility” of the existing with the new, biodiversity and health. All of these apply equally to the other Corridor options, of course. Their view is that Corridor 2 is the “least worst” solution. I absolutely disagree with this. Corridor 2 crosses the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and affects far more people.

I stated that I had hoped we could provide a united front and reject all four corridors with the request that National Grid consider either an underground or undersea route. This view is also held by the Dedham Vale Society and the Stour Valley Underground campaign group. Since the announcement of more offshore wind farms in the North Sea, an undersea grid must surely become a more viable option? I know that a great deal of work is going into costings both of the tunnel approach to undergrounding and the costs of an undersea grid. It appears that disappointingly our MP is supporting the views of the Groton Pylon Alliance.

More information on the following websites:

Heart attack services in Suffolk

West Suffolk patients are transferred directly to a Heart Attack Centre (HAC) and receive primary percutaneous coronary intervention (PPCI). East Suffolk patients are treated according to the pilot pathways as recommended by Professor Boyle.

This matter will come back to Suffolk’s Health Scrutiny committee when the results of the pilot are known. The pilot has been extended as the number of people suffering STEMI heart attacks in East Suffolk is very small and a larger sample size will be needed to draw any conclusions. Following concerns about travel times to transfer patients from East Suffolk to either Norwich or Papworth, Professor Boyle’s recommendations were:

·        Pre-hospital thrombolysis to continue in east Suffolk but with transfer of the patient as quickly as possible to the nearest primary percutaneous intervention centre so that possible angioplasty could be undertaken as quickly as possible

·        Patients admitted to A&E at Ipswich Hospital should be thrombolysed but instead of admission to Ipswich, for the duration of the pilot, should be transferred urgently to the PPCI centre

·        Patients with STEMI who have a contraindication to thrombolysis should also be referred urgently for assessment at a PPCI centre

·        This pilot should run for three months (now extended)

·        Patients from West Suffolk should join the PPCI programme at Papworth without delay

·        After the three months there should be an external review of outcomes, travel times and patient acceptability. Professor Boyle offered to facilitate the review and to determine whether there were sufficient data at that point to assess the options for future service configuration. A longer period of assessment was identified as possibly being necessary if the number of cases was low.

·        Further recommendations related to NHS Suffolk leading an engagement process and also development of an information leaflet for members of the public.

Out of Hours patient care in Suffolk

At today’s Health Scrutiny committee we had further talks with NHS Suffolk who are still in discussion with Harmoni healthcare over the new contract for out of hours GP and dentistry services in the County. The new contract will start on April 1st. Harmoni will replace the current contractor Take Care Now who have hit the headlines in recent months on a range of issues from doctors failing to attend very ill patients to the death of a patient in Cambridgeshire who was given 10 times the normal dose of diamorphine by a German locum.We also discussed whether people could expect doctors to attend any of the nine designated centres like Wickham Market instead of travelling all the way to the Riverside Centre in Ipswich. People have a right to know what level of service they can expect. They also need to know how they can complain if the service falls short of expected standards.This is an ongoing issue as the committee still has not received answers to all the questions. The matter will come back to the next Health Scrutiny meeting on March 23rd when we will also be discussing progress with Hartismere hospital and Sudbury Health Centre.

 Here’s a link to a recent article on out of hours care by Libby Purves in The Times :

Gritting of pavements

Last week I found out that parish and town councils in Suffolk can co-ordinate the gritting of pavements. The public have been very reluctant to clear pavements near their properties for fear of being sued and some pavements have been really treacherous.

By registering as a volunteer with the parish council, and abiding by a set of instructions, local people can help make pavements safe by spreading grit. They are then covered by Suffolk County Council’s insurance and will avoid being sued! I was keen to pass on this information once I found out about it and was interviewed on Radio Suffolk last Tuesday teatime. Subsequently a message was put out to the Suffolk Association of Local Councils to ask for their help in disseminating the message to parish and town councils. So people need no longer feel powerless to do something about this. Unfortunately Ipswich and Lowestoft are currently exempt as they are not parished.

Update on pylon consultation

I have been asked to chair a meeting at Hintlesham Community Hall on February 15th. This will provide an opportunity for local people to question National Grid. It is clear that none of the communities affected by the proposed new 400kv pylon routes in South Suffolk are in favour of pylons passing through their area. Corridors 3 and 4 would have an unacceptable impact on unspoilt landscapeCorridors 1 and 2 also cross very sensitive landscape areas and have the greatest population close to their routes.  They too would cause a dramatic loss of visual amenity. People are also worried about the financial devaluation and impact on the saleability of their homes. 

What is needed is some radical thinking and a policy change at national government levelGiven that many future generators of electricity will be either offshore, in the case of wind farms, or on the coast, in the case of nuclear generation, undersea cables would be a good solution. It beggars belief that National Grid are sticking to unsightly pylons. What price do we put on the protection of our beautiful Suffolk landscape from further blight? 

If an overland route is essential then underground cables would be far less obtrusive.  I find it hard to believe the figures being quoted by National Grid for this solution. Why does it cost between 12 and 17 times more than pylons, when other countries can build at 2 to 5 times the cost?