Sunday, 20 July 2008

Happiness and health in Lenton

From time to time people come into Lenton Recreation Ground to fly kites and it's a real pleasure to see the kite flyer keeping the kite in the air. Yesterday evening (Saturday) a young couple were in the park making their kite twist and turn, then dive and climb high into the sky. It was fun to watch them.

The couple kindly agreed to let me take pictures and I rather like this one. She told me that because of the clear open space in the middle of the park, it was a great place to fly a kite. She also told me that she had just finished uni, but has decided to stay in Lenton because she likes it here. Her face is full of concentration and within a moment of taking this pic her face was enveloped in a wonderful laughing smile as she rolled the kite skyward…

…and just for once I was lucky enough to capture the moment. Parks make people happy and yesterday I caught that happiness. With luck, these pictures will be contagious and spread a little happiness of their own.

Just across the road from Lenton Recreation Ground is the Derby Road Health Centre (DRHC), which was built just a few years ago on part of a school playing field. Previously, the doctors had been based in a house with an extension, about 150 yards up the Derby Road. opposite the Savoy Cinema.

I have always thought of the park as the Health Centre's 'outdoor surgery'. I rather like the idea of the Bowling Green Pavilion being used by the Centre as a base for "Healthy Living' clinics — a place where you could be weighed, have your blood pressure taken, then encouraged to go off for thirty minutes and do six laps of the park, before returning to have your blood pressure taken again, followed by a cup of tea and a slice of cake (I know, I know, this will undo all the good work done by the walk, but at least you will have done something healthy first!).

But our new health centre is not without its problems. Because the number of students living in the area continues to rise, one consequence is that the number of permanent residents is declining. As a result the number of patients registered with DRHC is declining. Students tend not to look for a doctor until they need one, then they are more likely to register at Nottingham University's own health centre. Recently, Nottingham Primary Care Trust (NPCT) had to identify three parts of Nottingham which needed one of the Government's new 'Polyclinics'. The areas chosen were the City Centre, Clifton and Bilborough — where some of DRHC's patients come from. As a result the doctors running the DRHC are having to bid for the five year contract to run the new polyclinic in Bilborough.

Somewhere along the line, a bit like a Chinese whisper, some of us heard that it was the DRHC which was going out to tender and that the 42 year old partnership of general practitioners (GPs) running the DRHC might be replaced by a private health care provider more interested in making a profit than caring for patients. Last month, the Bridge and Dunkirk & Lenton Branch Labour Party, of which I am Secretary, discussed the issue and I was asked to check up on what was happening. Since we are all opposed to private for profit NHS contractors, we decided that we would get up a petition opposing the privatisation of Nottingham NHS health centres.

After talking to NPCT and DRHC it became clear that Lenton's health centre is not under threat of being privatised (but for how long given Gordon Brown's NHS policies?). However, we did learn that the DRHC has falling patient numbers and that NPCT has extrapolated this to mean that 'the population in Dunkirk and Lenton ward is declining (and) this will impact on (DRHC) if it continues'. So, the outcome was a mix of good news and bad news.

All this must be unsettling for the GPs at the DRHC. They are having to bid for a contract to run a new GP polyclinic in Bilborough to protect their exisiting patient numbers whilst having to watch their backs in Lenton, just in case the PCT decide to hold them responsible for the area's changing demographics. Imagine what will happen if Lenton's high-rise flats are pulled down in a couple of years. Even if Newgate Court was saved, they could still lose 500 or so patients for a couple of years whilst the land was redeveloped.

Somehow, the local community has got to find a way of working more closely with DRHC's doctors to ensure that they are safe and that they can continue to provide us with excellent services. Perhaps we can have a campaign to get students to register with them. Every month 300–400 patients fail to keep an appointment at the DRHC. This information can be seen on posters in DRHC. Perhaps local groups and venues could help in the campaign to reduce the number of missed appointments? Perhaps such a community based campaign needs to be targeted?

It is a subject I will return to. In the meantime, I hope to persuade the Dunkirk and Lenton Partnership Forum to see if it can help DRHC in any way.

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