ACCESS Health Care's Ernesettle Medical Centre and Plymouth Marjon University are collaborating on a groundbreaking project which could prompt a fundamental rethink in how healthcare is delivered.
The Plymouth surgery has received £75,000 from independent charity the Health Foundation to support the project, which centres on the provision of group sessions, in the company of a GP and other health & wellbeing professionals, for patients suffering from similar problems.
And if the 15-month trial proves a success, it could see other healthcare providers follow suit and invite patients with a similar diagnosis to attend such sessions.
The project, which is being headed up by Ernesettle GP Dr Ed Parry-Jones, will investigate whether Shared Medical Appointments [SMAs], that bring together medical and non-medical aspects of pain management, in tandem with group discussions, can give patients using opioid medication to manage chronic pain more control over their condition.
“We’re bringing together people who suffer from chronic pain so they can enjoy a two-hour session with a GP, a lifestyle, health & sport coordinator, and a pharmacist,” explained Dr Parry-Jones. “With all those in attendance dealing with the same complex issues, there’s a likelihood any advice given to one member of the group will also be of benefit to others.”
“I’m really excited to be working on this project because it’s something different and new,” enthused Sam Vaughan, lifestyle, health & sport coordinator at Marjon. “Not everyone gets the opportunity to be a part of something as innovative and exciting as this. We’re on the cutting edge, trying out a new approach to medical appointments which, if we can make it work, could have an NHS-wide impact.
"Each session runs for two hours and I'll be there to offer advice throughout," explained Sam. "The last half hour of each session will be devoted to healthy conversations, which could involve working on things like nutrition, how to sleep better, or how to manage stress. We might also do some light activity such as weight work, stretches, or chair-based exercises."
It is estimated that 14 million people in England live with chronic pain, and 25 per cent say it prevents them from undertaking normal daily activities including work, while research has shown that they consult their GP up to five times more frequently than those without pain. What is more, the use of opioid medicine to manage chronic pain is a national concern and in the Devon CCG area the amount spent on opioid medication is significantly higher than the national average.
The aim is to provide patients with approaches to managing their chronic pain in different ways so that they can go about their daily life more easily. At the same time, it is hoped peer-to-peer support will help to reduce feelings of isolation and improve resilience, while medicine reviews will reduce the levels of opioid medication.
The university is responsible for the health & wellbeing element of the project, while Plymouth-based Evalesco Consulting is overseeing change / project management.
The assistant director of improvement programmes at the Health Foundation, Sarah Henderson, said: “We’re excited to support this project, one of 23 that have been developed by frontline teams to improve health and social care across the UK [as part of its Innovating for Improvement programme].
“We are looking forward to working with the teams to develop their innovative ideas, put them into practice, and gather evidence about how their projects are improving care for patients.”