GP practices in Leighton Buzzard are being challenged to cooperate as part of a primary care network.
The lack of an agreement between the three practices in town has been a source of frustration, a meeting heard.
“If you could crack Leighton Buzzard, that’s half of the country,” according to Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group chief operating officer Mike Thompson.
“It’s also a model for the rest of the country,” he told a meeting of Central Bedfordshire Council’s social care, health and housing overview and scrutiny committee.
Mr Thompson was outlining the work of the CCG and its future plans, focusing on changes to primary care delivery.
“Central Bedfordshire has a forward thinking hub programme, which can support some of the primary care initiatives,” he explained.
“Primary care networks have evolved over the last year.
“They are groups of GP practices working together to deliver services differently, and to deliver services with community, mental health and social care providers on a network basis.
“Those practices are now contracted to work together and obliged through the contract to join a network,” he said. “We are looking at seven networks in Central Bedfordshire of GP practices working together to deliver services differently.
The CCG commissions a range of healthcare for the county, except some specialist services which are commissioned by NHS England.
“Until April, we didn’t commission GP practices directly, so only in the last couple of months do we have that direct contractual relationship,” he added.
“That’s a new development this year and an important one about how we work at a locality level, and start to develop integration with health and social care.
“And it’s a way of focusing GP practices to start to look at the things we want to do collectively.”
Conservative Linslade councillor Gordon Perham said: “You talked about specialist nurses possibly going out into the community.
“But without the hubs we’re still slow with that. You say about collaborating with clinics and bringing it down to a local level.
“Even if you haven’t got a hub, you say the specialist people could go to different places on a different day and have people all come to that place, rather than all traipse off to hospitals.
“Then when it came to the end, you said there’s still no decision being made. It seems to take such a long time.
“I’ve heard some of this before and it doesn’t seem to move on from discussions, rather than implementation of some of this.
“We won’t get anything done at all if we keep waiting until the big plan is in place, rather than smaller bits at a time.”
Mr Thompson replied: “That’s a fair challenge around the time it takes for things.
“The primary care networks they can start now. There’s no reason to wait.
“These primary care networks are the building block of everything that we’re going to be doing in terms of out-of-hospital integration.
“They are starting now. To take an example, Leighton Buzzard, it’s not got a hub yet.
“It might have one in some years to come, in terms of the rollout of the hub programme,” he said.
“But those three practices in Leighton Buzzard, there is nothing to stop them starting to deliver the services in the way you describe, so that professionals, whether it be specialist nurses in communities, they can go out to those practices.
“But if those practices work together more effectively then they can offer up services.
“So on a Wednesday, or a Thursday, this practice is opening up its accommodation for a shared service between the three practices.
“A hub is a great enabler, but actually the collaboration through the networks doesn’t need a hub necessarily.
“Leighton Buzzard has been a bit of a frustration for me as we’ve been really slow off the ground and we’ve had issues with one of the particular practices.
“For me, Leighton Buzzard … a market town of about 40,000 people, with three practices, which is quite discreet geographically.
“It’s also a model for the rest of the country,” he added. “If you could crack Leighton Buzzard, that’s half of the country.
“What I think you’ll want to see is how does the primary care network in Leighton Buzzard work.
“How is that starting to change things over three, six, 12 and 18 months because they’re working in these different ways?”