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Ageing population and geographical challenges create barriers for Cromer healthcare

PUBLISHED: 09:47 24 November 2017 | UPDATED: 20:58 24 November 2017

Picture : ANTONY KELLY

Picture : ANTONY KELLY

It is a popular retirement destination, as beautiful beaches and the crisp sea air draw people to the coast.

But the high concentration of older people is a big challenge for those providing health care in Cromer.

With the town being around 25 miles from the nearest general hospital - and ambulance response times persistently missing targets in north Norfolk - health chiefs in the area have had to think differently when looking at how best to look after the population.

Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, said Cromer’s ageing population meant it was more important than ever to have high-quality health and social care.

He said: “Cromer faces similar challenges to any other market town but north Norfolk has one of the oldest age profiles compared to anywhere else in the country. This means dementia is a significant issue.”

Mr Lamb pointed to Halsey House, a Royal British Legion home with a specialist dementia wing, as an example of excellent care. Around 20 people a year die in Cromer from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, data shows.

“They do brilliant work,” he said. “But there are also a lot of people in Cromer living on low incomes. And that can bring both physical and mental health issues.”

Mr Lamb added: “It’s the pressure on the NHS and the care system, it’s ludicrously underfunded. And we’re trying to get the government to see that but so far they have not responded positively.

“There are many people with care needs in Cromer or people without care packages, or people with long-term health issues. And you’ve got to recognise the unpaid carers too.”

Data from Norfolk County Council showed 12.3pc of people in the town said their day-to-day activities were limited a lot by a long-term illness or disability, compared with 9.1pc in Norfolk as a whole, and 8.3pc in England.

The data showed 306 people in Cromer did 50 hours or more unpaid care per week.

Mr Lamb also pointed to ambulance response times and the location of Cromer as a barrier.

He said: “But there are also brilliant voluntary organisations which carry out absolutely invaluable work, for example About with Friends who give people with learning disabilities support.”

A spokesman for North Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) pointed to issues such as the demographic and geography of Cromer.

He said people living in the North Norfolk CCG area had the highest median age out of any CCG in the country.

He added: “This brings with it a number of challenges when you consider the correlation between a person’s age and their dependency on the health system.

“With this in mind we constantly need to look at transforming the healthcare system and move away from hospital care and to local communities.”

He said this was already happening by increasing work with the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, neighbouring CCGs and the ambulance service.

But there was more work to come, as future developments opened up more opportunity for those in Cromer to access services closer to home.

The spokesman said: “Cromer is particularly fortunate to have the resources it does at Cromer Hospital and Benjamin Court with exciting developments taking place at both and has the benefit of a minor injuries unit nearby.

“Cromer Hospital is set for a major expansion with the development of chemotherapy and blood transfusion services in a new wing also providing infusion and rheumatology services.

“This will also allow for other services currently provided to expand including dermatology, neurology and paediatrics.

“Equally, plans have just been announced to introduce accommodation based re-ablement into Benjamin Court in Cromer.

“The plans will see local services remain in Cromer and offer patients not currently ready for discharge home, to spend a short amount of time getting to their feet in a suitable environment.

“This is an exciting time for Cromer and as a CCG we actively involve patients, stakeholders and partner agencies in the way we look at providing healthcare, working closely with them to create services that deliver what our local population needs.”

A not-so-rapid response

The geography of Cromer has often meant the East of England Ambulance Trust (EEAST) has struggled to meet response time targets and it has taken longer to get people to hospital.

From August 2016 to July 2017, EEAST did not meet the target of responding to 75pc of calls within certain time frames (based on severity) in any month.

At times, the percentage of the most serious, life-threatening calls reached within eight minutes dropped to just 29pc.

David Russell, a Cromer town councillor who has been following ambulance performance, said: “The problem has been a lack of funding from the clinical commissioning group, and we believe they should invest quite a bit more. The ambulance service itself is doing a good job in difficult circumstances.”

But it is hoped changes in how EEAST responds to calls, as well as plans to put more ambulances on the road, will relieve pressure.

Cromer cancer unit

A new building at Cromer Hospital is set to be used as a cancer unit.

The unit will serve around 10,000 new patients a year, and will free up space in the central hospital so that a further 600 surgical procedures a year can be carried out in dermatology, urology, vascular surgery and pain management.

The project will cost £1.8m to complete, and will house six treatment chairs, as well as enabling an additional 2,000 chemotherapy treatments each year.

There will also be space for three new clinic rooms and two new minor procedure rooms.

Operational manager Iain Young said: “The treatment chairs will look out over the garden at the back of the ward and we’ll be working closely with the community so that patients will have a nice outlook whilst they are receiving medical treatment.”

The chairs will be used for chemotherapy, haemotology, rheumatology, oncology and urology treatments.

Dementia is ‘big thing’

Cromer is one of the worst-affected areas for dementia in the county, and north Norfolk as a whole is third in a national list of dementia hotspots.

There are 2,109 people living with dementia in the area, compared to an average of 1,302.

That is equivalent to 24 cases per 1,000 people.

In 2015, Age UK Norfolk helped Cromer launch as a dementia-friendly town. Jennie Cummings-Knight, pictured, a counsellor and the project’s lead volunteer, said she was keen for the project to gather more steam. She said: “At first, we went around and visited businesses on foot, asking them to be involved in training. Because of Cromer’s demographic, it’s a really big thing which has to be considered, as it affects not only the person living with dementia but families as well as they will often become carers.”

To find out more about dementia-friendly Cromer, contact Jennie on 01263 576691 or jennie_k@msn.com

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