Dartmouth is example of how healthcare system will function over coming century

An impression of the new Health and Wellbeing Centre in Dartmouth

An impression of the new Health and Wellbeing Centre in Dartmouth - Credit: Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust

This week, we celebrated the 73rd birthday of the NHS and the historic town of Dartmouth broke ground on its new Health and Wellbeing (H&W) Centre.

After the closure of its cottage hospital, the creation of this new centre will ensure the residents of Dartmouth are covered with the appropriate health care model.

Of course, for many, the replacement of a cottage hospital with an H&W centre will not be a like-for-like replacement.

The battle to maintain the hospital was long before my time, although I would have fought vociferously to see its long-term future secured. 

However, we will have a new building that provides flexibility and opportunity for residents of Dartmouth as well as serving as an example.

After the last 14 months, we know that having a large, dynamic and variable health care network that is both centralised and dispersed allows us to tackle pandemics, increases in demand and seasonal flows as well as prevent lockdowns.

If we are to face future health crises, avoid lockdowns and ensure rural health care models are not further reduced, then I hope we might be able to look at Dartmouth as one of the examples as to how the UK’s healthcare system will function over the coming century.

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The increased use of online, digital services is to be welcomed.

The very fact that you can see a doctor with just a few clicks of a button shows just how far technology has come.

However, it also has severe limitations.

For rural communities where the population is older, technology is unlikely to be the panacea for aches, pains or more serious ailments.

There remains, and likely always will be, a huge digital divide across this country.

The future health care model must consider that a digital appointment will not be a comprehensive replacement to a face-to-face meeting.

A centralised and decentralised health care model can exist in both instances.

With Torbay Hospital, Derriford and the Royal Devon and Exeter within our midst, we have three great centralised healthcare systems.

But their success also depends on the network of GP surgeries and Minor Injuries Units (MIUs) dotted across the county.

The success of all three components depends on the others.

Our GP surgeries and MIUs take a huge strain off those centralised institutions and will play an integral role in helping reduce the millions waiting for appointments.

Sustaining this duality makes all the difference in rural communities and will help us all through the great health recovery.

To ensure rural communities like ours are not cut off, we must explore the option of providing housing for key sector workers.

Whether it be Salcombe, Brixham, Paignton, Kingsbridge, Totnes or Dartmouth, we know that housing for key sector workers is few and far between.

Future development and redevelopments are going to have to take into account this need if we are still to have fully functioning towns and health care models.

July 19 looks set, as promised, to be the end of the lockdown measures that we have all had to endure, but we still face a difficult and uncertain future.

That said, it is time we all recognise that ‘certainty’ can never be guaranteed by scientists or politicians.

We must all be prepared to live with more risk and to accept that greater responsibility rests on our shoulders to protect ourselves and our neighbours.

Lockdowns must be confined to the dustbin.

The pain and suffering they have caused and continue to cause will only be truly evaluated in the years to come.

But we can only take this step if we can ensure our healthcare network is up to scratch and able to deal with the challenges that we are all likely to face.