I am acutely aware of constituents living in Crawley Down and the surrounding area who have concerns about Crawley Down Health Centre and its partnership (Modality Mid Sussex).
I visited Crawley Down Health Centre to meet members of the team alongside the Patient Participation Group when these concerns were first voiced. In my meeting with the Health Centre they explained the benefits they saw by coming together under Modality. These benefits included sharing back office matters which would free up GP time to see patients.
However, I appreciate patients feel these benefits have not been apparent in their personal experience and I have consistently raised constituents’ concerns with the Sussex NHS Integrated Care Board (the NHS body responsible for GP services locally).
Alongside my colleague Mims Davies MP for Mid Sussex, in recent weeks we have met representatives from Modality and we have had a follow up meeting with representatives from the ICB to discuss general practice more widely but with a specific focus on Modality.
Separately, I have met constituents to hear directly their concerns.
First, I want to be absolutely clear that I believe the GPs, the other clinical staff and the admin staff are working hard to support patients. Patients must have their voice heard and the NHS must be responsive to what are deep seated concerns but I know patients will be careful not to take out frustrations on frontline staff.
Patients have made clear to me that when they are seen by a GP or another clinician at the Health Centre that they are happy with the service they receive. But the real concerns lie with accessing the Health Centre, with particular difficulties getting through on the phone, being triaged and getting an appropriate appointment. I appreciate how frustrating and worrying this is for patients and I am focussed on ensuring access for patients is improved.
Mims and I made this clear in our meeting with Modality and we asked for a clear action plan as to how they will improve patient access. It is important to note that Modality Mid Sussex are facing issues that I am seeing in certain other GP practices locally in supporting increased demand for services.
All of our GP practices are under pressure, a contributor to this is the impact of the backlog in hospitals as a result of the pandemic. Hospitals are working hard to get through their elective care backlog but patients are waiting for routine surgeries such as hip replacements, and are relying on more support from their GP practices. More widely (and for a variety of reasons) the Covid pandemic has generated a significant increase in demand from patients which has increased pressure on the system.
As I say, Modality is not alone in facing these challenges but I was keen to hear from Modality and the ICB as to how the Health Centre is rising to these challenges to support patients.
I am pleased that Modality Mid Sussex have been successful in recruiting a permanent GP who will start in August. I understand they are also interviewing further candidates.
While these recruitments are underway Modality Mid Sussex are putting in additional GP hours from across their network to provide an out-of-surgery service to patients. While local resources are increased this approach will provide increased support for patients to speak to a GP more swiftly on issues that can be taken forward via a telephone appointment.
Mims and I also stressed to Modality about their communication with patients. They have informed us that they will be working with the ICB to formulate additional communications and have accepted an invitation to attend the East Grinstead Town Council on 1st June 2023 to answer questions from local councillors.
Our meeting with the ICB was productive and I am pleased that they have requested every Primary Care Network in Sussex (including Modality Mid Sussex) to develop access improvement plans by the end of June. Once each PCN has developed their plans, the ICB will be working with them to implement improvements. I am very keen for this work to be completed swiftly and will be following up with the ICB as to Modality’s plan and the support they will be providing the practices to put that plan into action.
The ICB have issued the below statement following the meeting:
“It was a pleasure to meet with Jeremy and Mims to discuss the challenges and opportunities that exist in primary care services. We understand from listening to patients and our communities how important access to services at general practices is, and that this is an absolute priority for local people. Much work is happening across our communities, and GP practices across Sussex have been implementing a range of improvements to respond to the feedback from patients.
It is helpful to see that the national plan for primary care, published last week, mirrors the work we – NHS Sussex – are already supporting practices with. Working with our GP practices, we are expanding practice teams, investing in new and advanced telephony systems to make it easier to contact your GP practice, and offering and innovative services to meet patients’ needs. Latest figures show that there was a record number of GP appointments that took place in March – with more than 970,000 people cared for by their local practice.
Over the coming months we will continue to drive forward the improvements being made, working closely with our frontline teams who are working incredibly hard, and help to ensure people can get the NHS help and support they need. Specifically we will have access improvements plans for all Primary Care Networks and a better understanding of the estate and digital infrastructure they require to further improve the way they work.”
I want to assure you that Mims and I will continue to ask important questions of both Modality and the ICB around access and patient experience.