I was delighted to welcome the Chief Executive of NHS England, Mr Simon Stevens, to the constituency after inviting him to come to discuss the importance of community hospitals and the voluntary sector to the NHS.
I arranged for a number of meetings to be held at Dartmouth Community Hospital, hosted by Matron Nadine Brooks. The morning started with a tour of the hospital, followed by meetings with local Matrons, commissioners and representatives from Devon's Leagues of Friends about the value of community hospitals and how they could expand their role.
Mr Stevens heard how, in rural areas, community hospitals are key as long distances and weak transport links increase the need for people to be able to access excellent care as close to their own homes as possible.
Mr Stevens spoke about the need to use community hospitals fully and effectively and took away several concerns raised both locally and nationally around the issues of inpatient beds, increasing access to clinics and services such as investigations and minor injuries units, ownership and the difficulties with recruitment.
Powerful representations were made to Mr Stevens from voluntary groups representing a range of bodies supporting people across South Devon about the value they add to help keep vulnerable people living well at home. He also heard about the rising demand on their services and increasing complexity of issues at a time when access to long term funding is under great pressure.
This was an opportunity to discuss the challenges faced by local charities when applying for NHS and social care funding and the need for these processes to be simplified. For small local groups, Mr Stevens and local commissions from across health and social care heard that the pressure and complexity of repeated grant applications is becoming an intolerable burden with valuable volunteers' time taken up trying to compete with national organisations which may have no local presence in South Devon. The difficulty in quantifying the value added by volunteers was acknowledged as well as the impact that loss of voluntary sector partners would have not just on individuals but in adding costs to the wider NHS and social care.
Suggestions for different commissioning strategies for voluntary groups were discussed as well as the advantages of nurturing voluntary organisations and reducing bureaucracy and keeping them flexibility to meet local needs. Representatives from the Clinical Commissioning Groups stressed that they recognise the value of the voluntary sector and are trying to utilise their experience. Staff from the Care Trusts also noted that they could not do without the support from the various Leagues of Friends.
I am so pleased that Simon Stevens came to visit Dartmouth to hear about the importance of community hospitals and the voluntary sector to Devon. He heard a clear and consistent message about the importance of stable core funding for the work of the voluntary sector. NHS and social care commissioners need to make it easier for these vital groups to apply for grants so that the funds go to those who are actually delivering the services in our local communities. It is evident that a small amount of money in the voluntary sector goes a very long way. I would like to thank all our volunteers for the extraordinary service they give both to individuals and to our communities.
The following volunteers met with Mr Stevens and myself: