Okehampton Health Partnership praises collaboration as new service introduced at hospital

Thursday 31st January 2019 3:00 pm

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A PARTNERSHIP working to ensure that Okehampton has sufficient health care provision in the years ahead has praised the collaborative effort of several bodies as some services have been expanded or provided from scratch within the community.

The Okehampton Health Partnership has been working since July 2017 to assess the healthcare needs of the town and its wider environs, before working towards potential achievements. The partnership has brought together local health and social care organisations, the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, the Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (NEW Devon CCG), local government and local voluntary sector and key community stakeholders together to try and achieve this aim.

Since the partnership was set up, the cancer charity FORCE has brought chemotherapy sessions to Okehampton Hospital, plus the hospital has a brand new X-ray machine and a rheumatology service, introduced after it was noted that there were approximately 700 rheumatology outpatient attendances from patients from the Okehampton area which took place in the acute site at Exeter.

The hospital will hold three appointment-only clinics each month allowing patients access to services closer to home and enabling the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital (RD&E) to reduce wait times.

Friends of Okehampton Hospital chairman Martin Perry said: ‘This is a wonderful step forward for many patients suffering this debilitating condition. It will cover both new and follow up patients and in many cases it will save a tedious and expensive 60/70 mile round trip to the RD&E.

‘Not only will it make it easier for patients in the Okehampton catchment area but it will have a knock on effect at the RD&E where waiting times will be reduced. There will, of course, still be some of our patients that will have to go to Exeter for more specialised treatment but for many this will come as a huge relief. Rheumatology clinics will add to the 40 plus clinics already being held at the Okehampton site and the Friends will stand ready to fund any equipment required to make patients as comfortable as possible.’

Through the collaboration, other services are being assessed and considered, and the partnership is hoping to further services to the town soon.

The partnership was set up by the town’s county councillor Kevin Ball in the wake of the loss of Okehampton Hospital’s in-patient beds, despite a valiant effort from many to keep them.

Cllr Ball said: ‘Many good people in the town put a lot and time and effort into trying to keep the beds, and it was important that all that effort wasn’t wasted. I was also determined to overcome the mistrust that had built between the public and the commissioners and providers to ensure the town and it’s surrounding area had health provision fit for purpose.

‘For that to happen, people need to get in the same room and that’s what happened. The partnership has developed from there and I can’t thank everyone who has been involved enough, for their commitment to the aims and objectives. Everyone involved deserves great credit for the way they have worked together to move things forward.

‘Through this process, we’ve learned that things can only succeed with partnerships. Collaboration work is essential. People feel strongly about their hospital and that’s understandable; for many there will be a strong emotional attachment to their local hospital.

‘But just because some services have been lost, that’s not to say that the building and the space can’t be used for other provision that benefits the community.

‘We had an opportunity to influence decision makers and let them know what we want in the community, and base it on fact through a comprehensive needs analysis encompassing around 26,000 people who use Okehampton as a hub town. The analysis looked at average age and typical illnesses and ailments affecting people in the area and has formed the centre of how we have taken the partnership forward.’

A spokesperson for NHS NEW Devon CCG, said: ‘We are working closely with the community to provide NHS services that meet local needs. The positive and productive partnership established and led by Cllr Kevin Ball is helping to achieve tangible benefits, such as the new rheumatology clinics launched this month by Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust.

‘The partnership has been highlighted as an example of good practice at national level and we would like to use experiences from this and other projects, such as those in Holsworthy, to meet the needs of communities across Devon in future.’

The partnership has held a number of community engagement meetings and also organised a Proud to Care Jobs Fair in June 2018, as part of the campaign by Proud to Care Devon, to encourage more people to consider careers in health and social care, or volunteering opportunities in the health and care sector. As a result of that day, people have started new careers in care. The partnership is hoping to organise another one this year.

Other initiatives the partnership is working on is employing a community well-being co-ordinator to help people find the services they need, helping to create an Active Okehampton brand that promotes healthy living, provide clarity around mental health services available in Okehampton and the surrounding area, improve connectivity and co-ordination of partners through a single point of reference for healthy lifestyle support.

The partnership was set up before the Government introduced its NHS Long Term Plan, which looks at new service models for community services which reflects the approach taken by the Okehampton Health Partnership.

Kiran Bakhshi, practice manager at Okehampton Medical Centre, said the centre was proud to be part of the partnership.

‘We are all determined to work together to improve the availability and awareness of local physical and mental health and well-being services and to learn from good practice in other areas of the country. 

‘By giving us the opportunity to work more closely at a strategic and operational level with the other local NHS, statutory and voluntary and community services, the Okehampton Health Partnership can help us to identify and offer any and all of the services which may be of benefit to the local community, and to improve the availability of services on offer to meet the local need.

‘At Okehampton Medical Centre we are dedicated to providing the best care and treatment to those who come to us. By working with others and understanding better what they can provide and how we can support each other, we are all able to offer people a better, more joined-up service.

‘The strategic Health Partnership working with its operational arm, the Health and Well-being Alliance and via smaller working groups, has allowed Okehampton Medical Centre to forge closer working relationships with others who care deeply about the health and well-being of people living in Okehampton and the surrounding areas. 

‘Together we have been able to identify some of the areas for development and some of the gaps between services which have traditionally remained separate and disjointed. 

‘This energy and drive has already been converted into some positive and tangible outcomes, with other workstreams still ongoing.

’I am confident that the Health Partnership’s work will be of enormous benefit to the local community and to the people and organisations working for and in the community to support people’s physical and mental health and well-being.’Em Wilkinson-Brice, deputy chief executive and chief nurse at the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, said: 'As part of the transfer of communities services to the RD&E back in 2016 we made a commitment to engage in a new conversation with people and to better connect communities and services so that we can work together to improve wellbeing for everyone. 'The community conversations have provided an innovative platform to really understand the strengths of the local area with an opportunity for genuine, two-way dialogue. 'It’s been a catalyst for collaborative practices to develop and opened the door for communities to have greater influence and power. This continues to be a really positive and productive process in Okehampton and one that I’m pleased to say is underway across many of our towns and places across Devon.'


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