Health Minister John Denham speaking to primary care professionals made it clear that one of the major challenges facing the new Primary Care Groups was the changing scene. The needs of different communities are increasingly diverse. Working lives and family lives are changing and for many busy people there is an increasing premium on flexible, convenient access and responsiveness. For others, particularly the elderly, the need is for higher levels of care which will enable them to live in their own home.
Over 400 Primary Care Groups will be set up on 1 April 1999. Doctors, nurses and other health professionals involved in the groups will then have the task of integrating existing arrangements and developing new ways of providing primary care for their communities. General practitioners will remain at the centre of the arrangements, but increasingly they will be the route to other professions and to self care.
National initiatives that will increasingly affect primary care are NHS Direct – the telephone helpline, which is being extended to cover the whole of the UK and Healthy Living Centres. More centres are being set up in deprived areas and there is a 5 year budget of 300 million pounds. The centres, which involve voluntary, community and private bodies, work beyond such issues as smoking and diet. To enable people to get the right type of foods they work with local shops and transport. Where black market debt contributes to community poverty they work with local authorities and the police to tackle loan sharks.