By Dr Helen Horton – West Cumbrian GP

GPs are by their very nature generalists. We never know what will come through the door and have to know a little bit about everything.

Of course within that we have to know how to get specialist advice when we need it, and services like Advice and Guidance provide a really strong link between GPs in north Cumbria and the specialist advice which can help you manage your patient in practice without a hospital referral.

This has been really helped by the development and uptake of Community HealthPathways. You could call it ‘The way we do things in Cumbria’. It provides a step by step guide to diagnosis, referral and even wider community support and it is available to every GP and our colleagues in primary care.

So what is it?

Community HealthPathways is a system developed in New Zealand and has been adapted by some health systems in the UK. North Cumbria was the 4th to adopt it, but now has one of the highest number of regular users.

There are currently more than 260 pathways on the system, ranging from chronic kidney disease to menopause. It means the process is aligned to the latest clinical guidance, leads you through the local referral process and may offer the health professional links to some of the fantastic groups we have in Cumbria or further afield offering advice and guidance.

We have clinical editors who work closely with colleagues in primary and secondary care to make sure the information is absolutely up to date. It is also tested back by the team in New Zealand before going live. Once it is live we know that things can change, so there is an option for clinicians to ask questions and add suggestions to further improve the offer.

Why is it good?

Well it means we all have the same information at the same time. This is especially helpful for locums who may not know the local referral routes.

It improves quality because the advice is checked and up to date, it’s in one place so there’s no looking for multiple referral routes and it means our GPs can be reassured when it is an issue that doesn’t come along often they have the best advice to hand quickly.

We also make it available to colleagues in the third sector so they can ensure they link local groups and opportunities so GPs can share that information with their patients too.

It is one of the most satisfying projects I have worked on as a GP, and makes a difference to our patients every day.