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New towns and approaches to healthcare

Could we soon be seeing gyms and health spas under the same roofs with doctors' surgeries and hospitals?

In September, the Huffington Post reported that the NHS wants to create 'health campuses' that focus on preventing illness as well as curing it. The idea is part of the Healthy New Towns scheme, which was launched by NHS Chief Executive Simon Stevens in 2016. The aim of this latest initiative is to encourage housing developers to co-locate fitness and wellness centres with medical facilities, so that local residents can be motivated to lead healthier lifestyles and hopefully reduce pressure on doctors, nurses and other health professionals.

There are 10 NHS-supported Healthy New Towns across the UK, comprising new housing developments that can accommodate a total of approximately 170,000 residents. Working closely with housing developers, housing associations and local authorities, the NHS is helping shape the way these new communities develop and, at the same time, testing innovative solutions to the healthcare challenges of the 21st century.

The concept fits perfectly with the three key aims of the NHS Five Year Forward View: to radically upgrade efforts to prevent illness, to design and implement new models of care and to increase greater efficiency in healthcare delivery. 

"We put into our Five Year Forward View an undertaking that we were going to design modern services from scratch, integrating not only health and social care, but also other public services such as welfare, education and affordable housing, " said Professor Sir Malcolm Grant CBE, Chair of NHS England, giving this year's TCPA Sir Frederic J Osborn Memorial Lecture. "We wanted to build into these new settlements a different model of delivering healthcare that includes a focus on education, physical activity etc."

At one of the vanguard Healthy New Towns, the NHS could soon be trialing a scheme to reward residents for hitting exercise targets. Proposals at Halton Lea in Cheshire include offering discounts on food shopping, free cinema tickets and cut-price sports gear. In May this year, a poll by YouGov for Cancer Research UK revealed that on average 52% of UK adults walk a mile a day or less and 17% walk less than a quarter of a mile a day.

Other ideas to be tested at some of the Healthy New Towns include fast food-free zones near schools, dementia-friendly streets and offering residents digital access to new GP services. More green space is also proposed to encourage children to play out safely. According to research by the Design Council, only 21% of today's children play outdoors, compared with 71% of the previous generation.

There's some evidence that the Healthy New Towns initiative is having an influence beyond the 10 vanguard sites. The GPs' magazine Pulse recently reported that housing developer Taylor Wimpey is planning to build a 'health hub' next to retirement homes as part of plan to create three new villages south west of Bristol. The hub will offer patients direct access to doctors, dentists, physiotherapists, chiropractors, osteopaths and counsellors. All of this will help to take the strain off specialists like sonographers and radiologists, allowing them to provide a higher quality of treatment to the people that really need it.

"One of the great advantages of starting from scratch - with new villages - is we can plan a community that works in all ways, " commented Project Director Gareth Hawke. "And building the healthcare hub in the center of the development puts health at the heart of our proposals."

What do you think about these proposals? Would a new healthy town initiative be beneficial? Let us know your thoughts via the comments box below
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