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Burnham Market
Norfolk, PE31 8DH

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Changes to your Healthcare - how new developments affect you and your family - 2005

You may already have heard about some important behind-the-scenes changes to the National Health Service taking place this year. But how will they affect you and your family?

The short answer is that the main changes you should see will be an improvement to health services generally. This is being made possible by developments taking place within this practice as part of the wider NHS reforms.

Key to it all is the New Contract (the General Medical Services contract - know as the new GMS contract for short) that GP practices across the country have signed-up to. It is the legal agreement under which each practice provides medical services to you, the patents, and under which we are paid by the NHS.

Two main changes will become apparent later this year. Firstly, the way in which we provide you with medical cover, particularly during the evenings and weekends, will change. Outside normal weekly surgery times, provision of medical care becomes the responsibility of West Norfolk Primary Care Trust (the PCT). In practice, it will be provided by a team of on-call GPs, highly-trained paramedics, emergency practitioners and nurses working for a new organisation, Anglian Medical Care, staffed and run by East Anglian Ambulance Trust. West Norfolk PCT and its five counterparts across Norfolk, are buying-in this service on your behalf. However, it will not come into effect until 1st July this year.

Under the new system if you have a medical emergency during evenings or at the weekend, you will still phone our surgery number as before. You will then be directed to the main Anglian Medical Care switchboard in Norwich. They will take basic details from you, then someone from one of their local strategic bases will call you back to assess your problem.

At that stage, if you and the sick person are mobile, you may be asked to make your own way to a local treatment centre to be seen by a GP or one of the other medical staff. If the person who has been taken ill cannot be moved, a paramedic may attend and either treat the patient, call in a GP or arrange for a hospital admission, as appropriate. At all times a GP will be available if needed.

On the positive side, this will ensure that the patient is treated by the most appropriate person. For example, it makes more sense for a trained paramedic in a vehicle carrying specialist medical hardware to attend in many cases, such as with a heart problem, than for a GP who may then have to summon an ambulance, causing an additional delay.

The one drawback to the new system is that local GP surgeries will be closed on a Saturday. This means that there will be no appointments for emergencies on a Saturday morning, and no arrangement for prescriptions to be collected. These will have to be picked-up during the week.

The new system is just one of many changes being brought into allow GPs to improve the level of healthcare they provide. It will mean that GPs who have already had a busy day treating patients will no longer have to take part in an out-of-hours rota with their colleagues and work around the clock providing emergency cover.

It is hoped that by introducing a more sensible working arrangement for doctors, more young men and women will be encouraged to train in medicine with a view to becoming GPs. There is currently a dramatic shortage of qualified doctors in general practice and we must make it more attractive to them if we are to avoid a real crises.

Another important change you will notice as time goes by is that the range of services and treatments we can provide at the surgery will expand. Under the terms of the new contract the way in which GP practices are funded is changing. Practices such as ours will be rewarded for the quality of services we provide, not just the number of patients we treat. The more NHS work we do, the higher our rewards will be.

One benefit will be that some health services previously only available in hospitals will now be available via the surgery. We will be able to tailor the service we provide to the needs of our local population. This gives us an incentive to treat you in the community, rather than referring you to hospital for a diagnosis or a minor operation.

Changes to the way we work will also allow us to make more effective use of our professional staff - the nurses, specialists and administrators who form the 'front line' of our team.

Outside our practice there will be number of options for you to obtain medical help in an emergency. The existing '999' service will continue as normal for accidents and serious illnesses. In less severe cases, you may also continue to phone NHS Direct for advice and assistance, on 0845 4647. For common ailments, such as coughs, colds and minor upsets, your local pharmacist will be able to advise and help.

All in all, the changes will bring your medical care up to 21st Century standards by making sure you receive the right treatment at the time to help you.