The government is constantly looking at ways to improve the service provided by the NHS and cut costs at the same time. In a world where GP surgeries and A&E departments are running at capacity, there is increasing pressure to keep patients out of these services by dealing with potential causes of illness before they evolve.
At the recent annual conference of the NHS Confederation, Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, urged NHS trusts to “rattle the cage and try something different”. It is thought that with the expected widening of devolution of public spending, due to be launched in Greater Manchester shortly, there will be scope for the NHS to be more creative with the way it supports patients.
Initiatives being mooted, and indeed attempted in some areas, are to prevent respiratory problems in the vulnerable and elderly by funding insulation and damp proofing in homes. Doctors in Sunderland have already begun to offer double glazing and new boilers in an attempt to reduce cold and flu presentations by those who cannot afford to adequately heat their home. Funding of some home improvements has also been suggested as a way to prevent falls and other injuries that occur in the home.
The idea is that closer ties with local councils and authorities could see a roll out of various social services and initiatives. Prescriptions to attend knitting and fishing groups, and other clubs offering social activities, have been suggested to battle depression and social isolation.
Questions must be raised as to whether or not the NHS should be expected to provide services that should be the responsibility of other social services and government grants. Shouldn’t the NHS be focusing on providing diagnosis and medicine as opposed to sending in “DIY SOS” to renovate a dilapidated home? On the flip side, if such a strategy reduces hospital and GP attendances, freeing up time for clinicians to tackle other problems with the health service can only be a good thing.