DOCTOR Ed Garratt has one heck of a jigsaw to put together.

It comprises GP surgeries, hospices, hospitals, councils, ambulance services and about a million people who access all these services.

Dr Garratt is the new boss appointed to lead a consortium set up to improve health in north Essex.

Known as the Suffolk and North East Essex Integrated Care System (ICS), its primary function is to bring all those different organisations together to improve communities’ health outcomes, by taking collective responsibility for resources.

The overriding objective is to deliver NHS standards and importantly, improve our health.

The area was picked by national NHS bosses to be one of the first in the country to deliver an ICS - and given £3 million to spend for starters.

Dr Garratt said: “What it means for patients is some great news because it is all about delivering collaboration between local NHS, local Government, the voluntary sector and the public so we can break down some of the silos we have had in the past.”

But Suffolk and north east Essex’s demographic means there are many challenges.

The area includes some of the most affluent areas of England but also the most deprived.

Ipswich and east Suffolk has a population of 385,000 with 40 GP practices; west Suffolk’s population of 243,000 is served by 24 GP practices and north east Essex has a population of 325,000 with 38 GP practices.

Deaths from cancer in women and from external causes in men (including drugs, alcohol, suicide) play a large part in the difference in average life expectancy between the Tendring district and England as a whole.

One in five reception children and one in three year six children in Suffolk and north east Essex are overweight and approximately two out of three adults are overweight or obese.

The number of people living with dementia across Suffolk and north east Essex is likely to almost double in the next 20 years.

There will be many more people living with multiple chronic illnesses, which is likely to put significant strain on health services.

So how does having an ICS help?

In real terms it means staff in the different organisations involved can communicate more easily and better understand data about people’s health, allowing them to provide care tailored to individual needs.

It is hoped this collaboration will reduce pressure on our already stretched hospitals.

Dr Garratt said one big challenge facing our health services is inequality and he has already started on three projects to tackle this.

One is to extend a holiday service run by the Firstsite arts gallery in Colchester to ensure eligible children can have free nutritional lunches during the school holidays, alongside sporting and creative activities.

The pilot ran in 2017 and more than 4,500 children and families took part over six weeks.

It ran again last year and has taken place again this year, aiming to reduce holiday hunger - when vulnerable children have limited access to an adequate supply of nutritious food.

Dr Garratt has been working with the venue’s director Sally Shaw to see the service rolled out to the Harwich area and eventually other parts of north east Essex.

Dr Garratt said: “They really support some of the families who are less privileged in Colchester and give them amazing support and opportunities for their children.”

The £75,000 rollout will be financed from the North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group, which is part of the ICS.

Dr Garratt is also in charge of this clinical commissioning group and others in West Suffolk and Ipswich and East Suffolk.

Another of Dr Garratt’s projects is to extend community transport, which is often used by people to get to hospital.

He said: “I think one of the challenges we have got in north Essex is there is quite a lot of isolated communities.”

The service is already run by various organisations but he is in talks with them to try to expand what there is.

The third project is to offer health expertise to Essex County Council which has been given £10 million from Sport England.

Dr Garratt said the money is for the council’s Active Essex initiative to get more people access to activities to improve their health.

He said: “These are examples of things I want to do.”

All three examples reach out to a range of ages and community needs, not just the elderly which makes up a large segment of the north Essex.

They all reflect the needs of the area’s demographic.

Dr Garratt added: “The most powerful form of prevention is support in the early years of life and supporting children, giving them much better prospects in the future.”

His work with those organisations follows on from £3 million Government cash awarded to the ICS, four months ago.

But there are a number of other changes being made in our area to support the ICS vision, including social prescribing, where people are referred to community services such as walking clubs or self-help groups to support their health and wellbeing.

The three clinical commissioning groups all covered by the area have also invested in mental health support and promoting mental wellbeing.

Clearly, this is a time consuming jigsaw which requires team work and learning on the way.

There is no quick prescription to make us all healthier, happier individuals but there is plenty of work going on to help us to get there.