Health board chiefs say the plans and investment will help ensure doctors’ surgeries can adapt to cope with 12,000 new homes that will be built in Forth Valley over the next five years.
The high number of new households – along with an ageing population – is expected to put massive pressure on the area’s GPs, some of whom are already unable to routinely accept new patients.
TheForth Valley Primary Care Premises Programme aims to improve the accommodation, services and facilities in GP surgeries across the area over the next five years, with a major programme of investment.
The plan is not just to replace existing facilities – they will also redesign the way GP services are delivered, building on work that is already happening locally.
NHS Forth Valley has already recruited more than 200 healthcare professionals to work in local GP practices, including advanced nurse practitioners, mental health nurses, physiotherapists, healthcare support workers and pharmacists.
They say that having direct access to such expert advice and treatment at an earlier stage can stop health problems becoming more severe and requiring more intensive and costly treatment.
In addition, it reduces pressure on GPs and frees up more of their time to support patients with more complex health conditions.
But many of Forth Valley’s 50 GPs are struggling to find suitable accommodation and facilities for the new services – in addition, many don’t have suitable IT infrastructure.
Kathy O’Neill, general manager for Primary Care and Mental Health, NHS Forth Valley, said: “This will support the future expansion of community-based health services and ensure we are able to keep pace with rising demand for local services as the population of Forth Valley continues to increase.”
Detailed work has been undertaken over the last 18 months in partnership with local GPs, primary care staff, patient representatives, staff from both local Health and Social Care Partnerships and NHS Forth Valley’s estates team to identify the most appropriate way of delivering the services provided within GP Practices.
In particular, they have been looking at which services could be shared between practices.
They have also been looking at the localities within Forth Valley, taking into account such things as levels of deprivation, new housing developments and how easy it would be to upgrade or expand the GP’s premises.
Developing more “locality hubs” – where a number of services for some GP practices are provided within larger premises – will free up space within individual GP practices to accommodate more local staff and services, the board agreed.
It will also mean that other services will be offered in a smaller number of locations but with a larger number of sessions.
NHS Forth Valley board agreed on Tuesday that there was a need for change and approved an initial agreement, which will now be submitted to the Scottish Government.
If that is approved, the next stage will involve the development of a series of business cases which will set out more detailed financial plans, service models and timescales for the proposed improvements in each locality area, which would be delivered on a phased basis over the next few years.