OPINION: Karin Smyth MP on the changeover of community health providers during a global pandemic

(Newspaper column as seen in the South Bristol Voice in April 2020)

We are currently in the midst of a huge public health crisis with Coronavirus now present in Bristol. It coincides with the changeover of provider in adult community health services across the Bristol area. Bristol Community Health, which has run the service here for many years, now hands it over to Sirona care and health – which has been awarded a £1bn contract to run these services locally for the next 10 years.

Community health services include things like community nurses, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, services that help recovery after a fall or a stroke, and services for people with dementia or learning disabilities. With some of the worst health outcomes in the city, people across Bristol South really do rely on this support.

Demand for healthcare services across the area is expected to be particularly high in the coming months and I know that the local teams are working hard to ensure this change of provider does not impact the NHS’s ability to cope with Coronavirus. As a former NHS emergency planner, I pay tribute to former colleagues for their work tackling this pandemic. I’m pleased that the government is following their expert advice.

Most people with suspected coronavirus won’t go to hospital or even their GP, but will be supported in the community by services provided by local government and voluntary sector. This is where adult community health services are particularly important.

I raised my concerns about this process and changing providers when Bristol North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (BNSSG CCG) put this out to tender early last year. Working for the NHS, I have seen first-hand how changing providers can impact care. It’s a high-risk strategy; delivering quality community health services relies on a huge amount of local knowledge and relationships built up over years between staff and patients. I’m keen to ensure that people in Bristol South have access to the healthcare they need – now more than ever.

I recently met with representatives from the CCG who have assured me that the changeover of adult community health services will result in an improved service; in more consistent care for patients and carers and improved access to care, as well as better joined-up working between partner organisations. This has an important role to play in helping tackle Coronavirus. I look forward to seeing this in action and will be following developments closely.

Please do get in touch to share your experience of local adult community health services as I would like to hear more from you. Thank you.