The NHS, for all its shortcomings, remains one of the country’s most treasured institutions.
But the well-documented pressures on hospitals like Eastbourne DGH can mean a long and frustrating wait for appointments with specialists or at clinics.
Such frustrations are shared by GPs, who want the best service for their patients. In Eastbourne, two GPs decided to make use of NHS initiatives designed to encourage greater patient choice and set up an alternative outpatients service.
The East Sussex Outpatient Services – known as ESOPS – has been established since 2008, and can provide consultation for most major medical conditions, with the exception of cancer.
However, its founders, Dr Mark Gaffney, of the Green Street Surgery, and Dr Joerg Bruuns, of Grove Road Surgery, believe that many people remain unaware of the service and the choice it offers. They emphasise that the service is free and is very much part of the NHS. It was set up under the Any Qualified Provider policy, which encourages alternatives to traditional health provision routes, and it has the full support of the Eastbourne, Hailsham and Seaford Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).
ESOPS is aimed at patients who need to be seen by a consultant. GPs can offer the patient their conventional referral to the DGH, or an appointment with a consultant at the facility used by ESOPS within a modern purpose-built building in South Cliff. ESOPS’ experienced office team co-ordinate the patients’ care and aim to provide a personalised, friendly approach. After the consultation the consultant will then either send the patient back to the GP with advice, manage them, or schedule them for an operation to be carried out either at the DGH or an independent hospital.
Full information is provided to the hospital concerned and follow up is provided back at the ESOPS clinic, which supervises the whole process up to discharge. ESOPS uses funding from the CCG to employ the consultants directly and pay the DGH or independent hospitals for inpatient work.
So what are the advantages? Patients are usually seen within four weeks for a routine problem. They always see a consultant or senior clinician and decisions are made at the first appointment. If a patient has seen a particular consultant previously, they will be seen by the same consultant again.
Consultants say they welcome the calm, efficient working environment which enables them to make the best use of their time with the patient.
A major advantage for the NHS is cost savings as a result of lower rates of follow-up and investigations, due to the involvement of senior consultants from the start.
ESOPS believes it assists local healthcare provision by taking away referrals that would have previously gone to the hospital, thereby helping relieve pressure on DGH waiting times. In fact the majority of referrals by ESOPS for inpatient work are going to the independent sector, taking pressure off DGH beds.
Dr Gaffney says the service has grown since its inception, and can continue to grow, subject to continuing public funding. He adds, “ESOPS’ vision is to bring out-patients out of the hospital and closer to the patient. It receives referrals from over 100 GP’s from more than 34 local practices. Over 15,000 consultations have been undertaken at ESOPS so far. Patients receive fast medical care from top specialists in private, independent, or NHS facilities all free of charge. ESOPS consultants hold their clinics outside of their hospital contracted hours thus avoiding any conflict. This is a time of great change in the NHS and Eastbourne is at the forefront of new services.”