A shortage of GPs and a growing population has seen some health services in Gosport reach breaking point.
With GP practices struggling to cope with an increase of patients, an NHS trust stepped in to help out.
Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust is joining three GP surgeries in Gosport to offer combined services in a bid to ease pressure.
But this is not the only scheme aiming to improve primary care.
Fareham and Gosport Clinical Commissioning Group has started a same-day access service offering patients the chance to see a clinician sooner.
And the CCG has launched a scheme to notify patients about community groups specialising in health and well-being.
One practice involved in two of the schemes is Forton Medical Centre.
The partnership with Southern Health looks to provide extra nurses, physiotherapists and mental health practitioners so patients can see the right professional more quickly.
Health professionals working in the surgery are having to adapt the way they work but many are happy with the changes.
Practice manager Chris Complin says: ‘Forton is the first practice in Gosport to take part in this partnership.
‘It is difficult times in Gosport and this scheme is not only viable but allows our GPs to have the time to think, develop clinical ideas and take them forward.
‘We knew we were near a cliff edge and had to do something.
‘All we needed was for one doctor to retire and another to call in sick and we would have been at that cliff edge.’
Mr Complin adds he has received compliments about the scheme from both staff and patients at the surgery, off Forton Road.
‘We are getting more and more positive feedback,’ he says.
‘When you look at the clinical mix that we have as a practice, you know the plan is going to make for a better service.’
Having different health professionals based at the surgery gives patients the chance to see them first, without having to get a referral from a GP.
It means someone in need of a physiotherapist can see one that afternoon.
Mr Complin says: ‘This project is about getting patients the treatment they need sooner. But it also means GPs have the time to see patients who need them.
‘They can spend more time with their patients which is important.’
Although the scheme has been successful so far, Mr Complin and his team know changes might need to be made in the future.
‘We think differently to our patients so we are looking to listen to the patient groups and work with them,’ he says.
‘If something is not working, then we want to know. There has always been something against trying something new but we are doing it.
‘We are doing something new and we need our patients’ help to try and move it forward and make it work.’
For community pharmacist Jane Birch-Tomlinson, who works at Forton Medical Centre, the arrangement with Southern Health has seen her role expand. She is there to do medication reviews and look at letters on medicine-related queries.
As a pharmacist independent prescriber, Mrs Birch-Tomlinson is also qualified to issue prescriptions. It means any patients with a medication problem can be referred straight to her without the need for a GP.
She says: ‘The things that I do really take some of that pressure away from the GPs.
‘I do all the small tasks that take time, giving them the opportunity to see and treat more patients.
‘Patients are starting to understand that I can help with the prescription and medication issues like a doctor would.’
She adds: ‘I very much feel part of the practice team and there is not a barrier between myself as a pharmacist and the GPs even though I have been brought in because of the partnership.’
The partnership is a pilot scheme similar to the same-day access service from Gosport War Memorial Hospital.
The scheme, run by Fareham and Gosport CCG, gives patients from four surgeries, including Forton Medical Centre, the chance to see a clinician who can help them with their specific needs. After phoning up the surgery, patients are referred to the same-day access service team.
They describe their symptoms through a triage system and it is decided who they should see whether that is a GP, mental health practitioner or a physiotherapist.
Appointments can be made on that day with the patient seeing the appropriate professional at the hub based in the hospital.
Mr Complin has praised the same-day access service saying it has benefited the practice too.
‘The four practices involved have been working as a team and the support has been invaluable,’ he adds.
‘Previously we were four different businesses but now there is a real collective feeling to how we are working.’
All the new schemes introduced in Gosport have been welcomed by Fareham and Gosport CCG.
Dr David Chilvers, a Gosport GP who chairs Fareham and Gosport CCG, says: ‘The NHS is under huge pressure in many areas, especially many of our Gosport GPs practices where recruitment to replace GPs who have left or retired continues to be a major problem.
‘GP practices and our partner organisations, including Southern Health, our NHS provider of so many community services, all recognise the need for change.
‘They are not only fully engaged partners but they are helping to spearhead this process.
‘I’m really thrilled at how the health economy in Gosport has come together to ensure that we devote our precious staffing and other resources to where they can make the most impact.
‘Our patients are at the heart of everything we are doing and I’d like to feel that we are making very positive changes.’