It might have escaped your notice but some significant changes to the organisation of health services came into place a few weeks ago.
Hertfordshire Primary Care Trust has been abolished and our area is now covered by Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).
This is part of wider reform to allow organisations commissioning medical care to cover smaller geographical areas and be led by medical practitioners.
Herts Valleys CCG covers Dacorum, Three Rivers, Watford, St Albans and Hertsmere, with the 70 GP practices in the area all members.
The five key areas of responsibility are mental health, maternity, children and young people, older people and complex care, urgent care and planned and primary care.
I recently met the chair of the CCG, Dr Nicholas Small, to discuss the impact of the changes. What will be the difference for someone living in South West Hertfordshire, I asked.
In summary, Dr Small’s answer was that a CCG should be able to innovate more. It will be able to take decisions more quickly and react to changing circumstances.
This will mean that it will be in a better position to try new approaches. For example, there is already a project in place to enable those who require support to stay in their homes for longer.
A pilot scheme is in place in Potters Bar and it is hoped that this will be expanded in the next few months.
On this type of issue, the relationship with Herts County Council – which remains responsible for social care – is vital and I was encouraged by the fact that the relationship appears to be strong.
The relationship with the West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust also appears to be positive. Increases in demand have placed a strain on A&Es across the country and, ever since the closure of many of the services at Hemel Hempstead Hospital, there have been concerns about whether Watford General Hospital can cope. This was something that some of us pointed out at the time of the Hemel Hempstead closure and there is no doubt that Watford has been under great pressure over recent months.
However, Dr Small told me that in recent weeks there has been some progress in reducing the demand at Watford so that the pressures are not so great.
The NHS 111 phone service, which had some teething problems in some parts of country, also appears to be working well in Hertfordshire after being introduced in October last year – ahead of most of the rest of country.
The 111 number allows patients to access healthcare in an emergency that is not life-threatening. You can ring the 111 number 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. In Hertfordshire the service is provided by Herts Urgent Care, which provides the GP out-of-hours service.
Of course, we are in the early days of this reform.
But I welcome the desire set out by Dr Small to provide services as locally as possible, with more done at the GP surgeries rather than in hospitals.
One aspect Dr Small stressed was that it is important that there is good communication between the CCG and patients.
On that basis, I am sure that we have plenty of further communications but do let me know of your experiences.
David Gauke is the MP for South West Hertfordshire. Contact his office on 01923 771781 or visit www.davidgauke.com