OPINION: Karin Smyth MP on local NHS services

(Newspaper column as seen in the October 2019 edition of the South Bristol Voice)

Before I became a politician, I worked in NHS management. As MP for Bristol South I’m acutely aware of the health inequality that exists here and the great need for first-rate healthcare close to home for my constituents. For these, and many other reasons, health is one of the main areas I focus on as your MP.  

You may have seen that I have been raising objections to the recent recommissioning of adult community health services in Bristol South and the surrounding area by Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (BNSSG CCG).  

I spoke to local and national NHS leaders and government ministers to outline my concerns – that unidentified bidders competing for a £1bn 10-year contract behind closed doors was not in the best interests of local people. Despite my protestations, the recommissioning took place.  

Last month (Sept), the local CCG revealed that from April 2020 a new provider – Sirona – would be taking over the delivery of adult community health services from the existing provider and failed bidder, Bristol Community Health – which has given notice on its other contacts and now faces an uncertain future. 

We still do not know which services were included in the winning bid and, perhaps more importantly, which were not. As such, we have no idea how this will impact or, as should be the case, improve the current situation. It’s an uncertain time for staff and patients alike.  

Adult community health services include community nurses, respiratory, cardiac and diabetes care – as well as some of the services offered at South Bristol Community Hospital (SBCH). It’s a vital part of the journey from acute care to social care and/or recovery. Delivering quality community health services relies on a huge amount of local knowledge and relationships built up over years between staff and patients.  

Changing provider is a high-risk strategy by the CCG. We’re already seeing issues locally with the changeover last month (Sept) of access to mental health service delivery – from Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership to the Essex-based Vita Health. In this case, the option to self-refer online has been disabled during the handover. Sirona has a huge amount of work to do over the next six months before they’re in a position to be able to deliver services including staffing, IT, engaging with patients and partnering with charities.  

The CCG – which has recognised the greater health needs in Bristol South – says it wants to see consistent, joined-up healthcare delivered closer to home. I look forward to learning more about how services across Bristol South – including at South Bristol Community Hospital – will improve as a result of this very costly and bureaucratic re-commissioning process. And I will continue to work with all concerned to make sure that happens.