HEALTH Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said Thornbury should be “even more ambitious” about the prospect of redeveloping its health centre.

During a visit to the town today, Mr Hunt discussed the prospect of a new-look healthcare facility with representatives from South Gloucestershire Council, the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), representatives of the GP practices and Thornbury and Yate MP Luke Hall.

Talking the group through how they could make a bid for government funds more successful, he said they should consider thinking bigger in their plans.

Speaking to the Gazette, he said: “I absolutely understand the need, but the key to getting NHS funding is to be even more ambitious about what an expanded health centre could do in this area, in terms of keeping people healthy and happy in the community without extensive hospital care.

“I can see from what Luke has told me, what a priority the health centre is. There are clear issues with the fabric of the building that need sorting out.

"We had a very productive discussion about the best way to secure NHS support nationally for the redevelopment which I know is very important to people locally.

“The financial situation nationally is very challenging but the NHS has a very clear strategy which is that we want to be better at looking after people in the community.

“Prevention is better than cure and we want to shift the centre of gravity in the NHS to a model which prioritises prevention. That of course is where a really good health centre could make a massive difference.

“The more we can make this a part of the broader NHS plan to transform the quality of care at home the better.

“We want the NHS to be the safest and best healthcare system in the world and that means a total transformation of our community services. It would be really exciting for a new health centre in Thornbury to be part of those ambitions.”

Gazette Series: Jeremy Hunt talking to representatives from the CCG and South Gloucestershire Council

Jeremy Hunt talking to representatives from the CCG after the meeting

When asked about the prospect of more GPs and more facilities across South Gloucestershire to match the predicted growth over the coming years, Mr Hunt said that more GPs were needed everywhere, but that the challenge was getting them in more rural and remote areas.

“I think if you had a brand new health centre with very attractive buildings that is going to be a magnet for training doctors who want to become GPs,” he said.

An outline business case for a funding bid, which should be ready by the spring, is currently being put together.

This positive step follows significant movement in the past year, with £100,000 being given to conduct a feasibility survey examining the potential for a new centre.

Meanwhile Thornbury Hospital’s Henderson Ward is set for a complete redevelopment, with up to 80 new NHS rehabilitation beds and mixed-use care beds being installed.

And earlier this year, Sirona were also awarded £1million from the government for extra care housing on the hospital site, ensuring that a proportion of the units would be available for social rent.

Mr Hall said he felt the meeting between the groups was productive and went “really well”.

“The Secretary of State was able to give us some clear guidance on what is likely to constitute a successful bid to central government for the money to redevelop the site,” he said.

“What the CCG needs to be doing to show this would reduce pressures on Southmead Hospital and how it would improve healthcare for the area.”

“As Thornbury’s MP, I want to keep the redevelopment of the health centre at the top of the agenda. I want to use every mechanism we have.

“There are housing pressures on Thornbury making it difficult to make appointments and that’s why it is right to do everything possible to help the bid that could service the wider population.”

Cllr Toby Savage, South Gloucestershire Council deputy leader, who was also in attendance, said that, in the week the Joint Spatial Strategy was approved, confirming new homes and jobs in the area over the next 20 years, having the meeting was "a great opportunity to make the case for the transformation the health centre".

"The building has barely changed since my mum was attending the centre pregnant with me and that’s over 30 years ago now," he said, "so it’s really important that collectively – local NHS, council and residents - we know how to make the strongest possible case for the major funding that we know will be needed to provide the town with the 21st century health centre it needs.

"The Secretary of State gave us some invaluable advice in this regard once we know the results of the feasibility work that the local GP-led Clinical Commissioning Group are doing now.”

Ben Bennett, SGCCG director of special projects, said: "This was a very constructive meeting and we welcomed the opportunity to explain our vision for an enhanced primary care offer in Thornbury to the Secretary of State. 

"As well as ensuring that any plans for new facilities in Thornbury significantly improve health care provision for the local population, we are clear that they must also support the aims of our Sustainability and Transformation Partnership for Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire; in particular our ambition to provide more care outside hospital including at home which will also  relieving the pressure on our busy local acute hospitals.

"We look forward to discussing our plans with local people over the coming months and will be keeping the Secretary of State updated on developments."