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We need to sort the basic problems before trying fancy solutions

Every now and again, when Mrs C and/or the kids get bored with Essex’s finest retail park, we make the trek over the river to the wastelands of Ebbsfleet. Apart from another retail park (perhaps Kent’s finest, who knows?) in a disused quarry and a half empty railway station car park there’s nothing there to write home about, or, indeed, to write about at all.

Unproven schemes involving Skype-a-doc and nurse-led pharmacy-based patient-centred pop-in centres

That will all change if chief executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens, has his way. Plans for a ’new town’ at Ebbsfleet have been hatching for decades. At one time its inhabitants could even have looked forward to the prospect of being overlooked by a gargantuan hilltop statue of a white horse until the money ran out, depriving local activists of the chance to install sculptures of giant-sized droppings in its wake.

Stevens dreams of establishing a ’Healthy Town‘ on the site, complete with dementia friendly streets, adventure playgrounds for the kiddies and ’new models of technology-enabled primary care’ – whatever the hell they might be. One thing’s for sure, they won’t involve me.

There are plans for ten of these English Utopias – scattered from Darlington to Devon. Darlington’s getting an ‘Eastern Growth Zone’, which sounds disturbingly microbiological, Whitehill barracks will enjoy the benefits of an ‘integrated care hub’ on the site of the old parade ground but Ebbflett’s getting the bragging rights, because it’s going to be a Garden City, with or without the dobbin of the south or, it seems, permission from the Head of State. Stevens has spoken, the old bird on the banknotes will just have to lump it.

Another proposed site is Barking. I’ll just leave that there without comment.

In other news, good old-fashioned crap towns have been competing for the accolade, ’Most Deprived’, awarded by the Office of National Statistics.

It was a close run thing this year between Oldham and West Bromwich, who also share the distinction of hosting the highest professional football grounds in the country. Find the connection and there’s your Nobel Prize. Oldham held out for the win. If the good people of Salford and Rochdale can look down their noses at you, then you know you’re in trouble.

The thing is that there are already people living in Oldham, West Bromwich, Salford, Rochdale and the other six godforsaken dumps that made up the top (or bottom) ten. I’ve not done any actual research, and there’s no medical student around to pass the task on to, but I’m willing to bet that every town on the list will have problems recruiting and retaining GPs to work there. So before chucking millions of pounds away on unproven schemes involving Skype-a-doc and nurse-led pharmacy-based patient-centred pop-in centres why not consider, for one sodding moment, throwing a few scraps their way?

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield