Down by the riverside

Last year, the government unveiled plans to radically transform a 40-mile stretch of land along the Thames Estuary, from London Docklands to Southend, Essex, and Sheerness, Kent, through a series of sustainable new communities to be built over the next 10 years.

The government’s targets for the 6m Thames Gateway project include 120,000 new homes (with provision made for key workers), 180,000 new jobs, improved education facilities and “access for all residents to high quality healthcare”.

This flood of new residents will massively test the health and social care infrastructure of the region. Above-average funding increases to primary care trusts and changes to the revenue support grant formula for the affected areas will go some way to helping prepare for this expansion. But what will this mean for authorities on the ground?

Kent Thameside, the region that stretches from Dartford to Gravesend, has some of the most deprived wards in the county and is projected to experience population growth of 16.6 per cent between 2001 and 2016, with the vast majority of this growth being in Dartford, which will see a 30 per cent population rise.

In preparation for the dramatic changes to the region’s population, Kent Council’s social services identified the extra infrastructure needed to deal with the projected population growth, it came up with a “social care developer contribution formula”, which will see property developers who intend to build homes in the area contribute to improving the county’s social care infrastructure.

According to Teresa Welch, sustainable communities project officer for Kent social services, negotiations are under way with developers to ensure social care is firmly on the agenda for these new sustainable communities.

In the short term, the county expects that the greatest impact will be on its acute services and primary care, but the growing population is expected to eventually have an impact on health and social services across the board.

Debra Exall, head of performance and planning for adult services, says that while most people moving into areas like Dartford will be families of working age, “evidence from other new developments shows there will be some older people moving in, disabled people and people with mental health problems”.

Exall explains that the changes to health and social care services on a national level – such as the recent white paper Our Health, Our Care, Our Say – will make it easier for the county to cope with the expanding population.

But she adds: “In broad terms we will need to significantly expand services that support people in the community and in their homes while we do not anticipate an increase in residential or nursing care nor in acute hospital care.”

As to who will deliver these extra services, Exall is confident the county will be able to recruit local people to expand the social care workforce. Teresa Welch also says that key worker housing is high on the council’s agenda.

“Our strategy is one of focusing trained professionals on those tasks while increasing individual’s own expertise to manage their conditions or those of the people they are caring for and tapping into the use of volunteers to a much greater extent.”

Kent is well ahead of the game with its plans. A number of other councils in the Thames Gateway region, who were approached to comment on how they would deal with the region’s expansion, believed that it was too early to predict the impact.

Even the Department of Health itself seems unsure of the exact repercussions for the region of this rapid growth. As a spokesperson admits: “We won’t know until they move in what their needs are going to be.”

The only certainly at present is that those local authorities who put in place contingency plans now to deal with the projected growth, will be better placed to deal with the influx of new residents when it begins.

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