By now I am sure that you will be aware that Swale has the highest ratio of patients per GP in the entire country. This obviously wasn’t a great surprise to anyone who lives here, because we all knew that trying to get an appointment is a lottery at the best of times.
However, in the weeks that have followed we’ve had our MP Gordon Henderson blaming Labour, Swale Borough Council claiming that they have undertaken the necessary regulatory consultations and the rest is outside of their control and confusing mixed messaging from the Swale Clinical Commissioning Group who on the one hand appear to be in denial and on the other have repeatedly warned the council that it is their policies that are the root cause.
So, let’s begin with the Swale Clinical Commissioning Group who say
“The reality is that, although Swale has been in the headlines, this is not a problem unique to us.”
Honestly, I am lost for words, the scale of the problems in Swale are clearly unique and to claim that it is not illustrates that the Swale Clinical Commissioning Group are simply burying their heads in the sand.
If you look at the NHS data unearthed by the BBC in their recent coverage, you will see that the majority of Clinical Commissioning Groups are actually operating below the reported average of 1,734 patients per GP. We are told that the best location in the country, Rushcliffe with 1,192 patients per GP is 31% below this figure, which makes for an interesting comparison in a moment.
To understand just how acute the problem is in Swale let us take a look at Thanet which is the fourth worse in the country and has 786 more patients per GP than the average which equates to a 45% swing in the other direction.
Swale has 1,608 more patients per GP than the average, a staggering 93% above the average, making us more than twice as bad as Thanet. That is a huge and very significant difference, meaning that Swale would literally need to double the number of GPs just to become average.
I understand that there are many factors involved and the Swale Clinical Commissioning Group has no control over where GP’s wish to work, national policy and various other matters, but until such time as the Swale CCG accepts that the use of locum doctors is not a means of addressing this problem, I fear that the situation will only get worse.
Whilst our MP Gordon Henderson acknowledges that there is a problem, he has chosen to foot the blame squarely at the previous administration, citing that it takes 10 years to train a GP. In which case I’m looking forward to next May when everything will somehow be magically resolved, assuming of course that his party have spent that last decade rectifying the matter and not just blaming someone else.
I am sure that there are many contributing factors which lie at the root of this problem, but I think most people would agree that the huge growth in population as a result of Swale apparently being one of the fastest growing areas in Kent is more than a significant contributor.
Swale Borough Council say they have liaised with the NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups and consulted with the NHS Hospital Trusts. The council maintains that “the issues are not that we are not planning for new provision. Meetings are ongoing with the NHS representatives as we progress the local plan review.”
You might find it odd then that the Swale Clinical Commissioning Group wrote to the council in late 2016 and warned them that “Swales potential growth is likely to be 30,000 people over the next 15 years equating to circa £90 million loss of revenue funding which would be a major risk to the NHS.”
Bear in mind the council are now planning on significantly increasing housing development as part of a Local Plan review, which despite all the political propaganda to the contrary which spills from the councils press machine, has long been endorsed and supported by council leader Andrew Bowles in his bid to substantially grow south Sittingbourne.
We have obtained correspondence from the Swale Clinical Commissioning Group which states “I am not sure I understand what Swale Borough Council means that the issues with our NHS is not increased housing. We have made it clear that the additional housing that is proposed in the Swale area will have a significant impact on our primary care GPs.”
“As you know Swale has one of the highest patient to GP ratios and although we have worked to extend the clinical roles working in primary care, the majority of our practices do not have the capacity to take additional patients at their current facilities.”
Interestingly whilst the council states that developers are also generally willing to make contributions towards new buildings, although obviously not the fitting out, equipping of and recruitment of personnel that it actually takes for it to work in practice. They acknowledge that NHS funding comes around 6 to 7 years after the new housing is built and is often insufficient.
Now does that sound like a sustainable plan?