But officials behind proposals to replace 15 city family doctors buildings with five modern supersurgeries admit they are aware of fears the scheme will mean more travel for some of the patients they are intended to help.
Mike Speakman, programme director for Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group, thinks the benefits of modern GP ‘hubs’ will outweigh an issue he believes can be solved.
He says money for the centres is available, and would be lost if the scheme does not go ahead.
He is also concerned some of the current practices, many based in converted houses, may not meet official health standards in future, and feels the central location will help patients access more services close to home – services individual practices may not have space or money for.
Speaking in one of Sheffield’s most modern GP buildings, Woodseats Medical Centre on Woodhouse Road, which opened four years ago, he said the GP practices would remain the same – existing individual practices would not merge, so patients would still have the same doctors. Only the environment would alter.
The proposals involve: Pitsmoor Surgery, Burngreave Surgery, Cornerstone Surgery (branch), Sheffield Medical Centre, Herries Road Surgery (branch), Page Hall Medical Centre, Upwell Street Surgery, Shiregreen Medical Centre, Elm Lane Surgery, Firth Park Surgery, Dunninc Road Surgery, The Health Care Surgery, Buchanan Road Surgery, Southey Green Medical Centre, Melrose Surgery (branch), Margetson Surgery (branch), Clover City Practice, The Mulberry Practice.
Supersurgeries in Shiregreen and Page Hall
The locations of the new supersurgeries have not all been confirmed, but are expected to include Concorde Leisure Centre, in Shiregreen, and Rushby Street, in Page Hall.
Mr Speakman believes transport issues can be overcome by ensuring bus routes from the old buildings serve the new ones. Talks will take place with operators, He believes it will be advantageous to bus companies, through passenger numbers, to ensure they are well served.
He said: “We’ve looked very hard at the feedback we’ve had to date and continue to do that, and look for ways we can improve accessibility by public transport, but also made sure the sites are as central as they possibly can be to the people we’re serving. The other point is accessibility isn’t just about distance, and we want to make sure we can provide the maximum range of services with as few visits as possible to people.”
He sees other advantages.
Some surgeries struggle for space for services. There is not always space for physicians associates, social prescribers, pharmacists and physiotherapists – services bosses believe can take some workload away from GPs, freeing doctors up and making it easier for patients to get appointments.
He said: “The pandemic made all healthcare change, with a shift to online. Practices are now flat out again with face to face work though. We will make sure people have the chance to access GPs, but also other practitioners too. The way it needs to develop involves different roles, not just GPs. One of the most common problems is buildings don’t have room to accommodate other roles like pharmacists, physiotherapists and social prescribers. We will make sure they have space for these roles.”
He said this would free up GPs to see patients who really needed to see a doctor.
There is also a belief that offering more services in the same building will encourage more people to use them. He says if a patient is taken down a corridor to meet a professional in the same building, they are more likely to use the services than if they were just offered an appointment with someone they have never met at the Northern General Hospital.
He sees the new buildings as doing more to improve ‘wellness’ – a chance to do more work to keep people healthy rather than giving out pills when they become sick. Some services based there could include dieticians and smoking cessation services.
He said the plans could help improve health in what are some of the most deprived areas of Sheffield, which have not seen major Government investment in public health buildings for years.
Rooms for surgical procedures
Dr Anthony Gore, a GP at the new Woodseats building, supports the plans. He showed The Star around the building he works in.
Clinically, modern facilities include a room which can be used for minor surgical procedures. In practice, that can include fitting of contraceptive coils or implants, ultrasound screening, diabetic eye screening, joint injections and podiatry.
He shows a room which can allow more complicated blood tests than the previous building, a converted house, meaning quicker results as samples did not have to be sent away.
On the non-clinical side, he showed a telephone room, with several call handlers freeing up receptionists to see patients as they arrived.
He said: “Our list size has grown, so I think people appreciate the facilities offered. Certainly we get very positive feedback from patients about the building. It’s an airy, pleasant space to be, there’s nothing dingy and dark like perhaps was the case in the old building and I think that’s very much appreciated.
"Patients may be anxious or concerned about their health. Going into a place that is light and welcoming and with modern facilities allows you to address their needs as fully as you can.”
In the past they have had mental health workers and screening services operating in the building. He said: “The fact we have spaces in this facility allows us to sometimes host services, who use our space, which is very useful. For any other practice getting a new building, they’ll be able to co-locate other services whether that be voluntary sector services or other NHS services within their building.”
He said it was easier to refer someone for an appointment down the corridor than to the Northern General Hospital.