COST, travel and availability of services are acting as barriers for people accessing NHS services, a survey has found.

The regionwide campaign from Healthwatch determined that, across the North-East and North Yorkshire, mental health, long-term conditions, cancer services and access to GPs outside of working hours were among people’s top priorities.

The campaign consisted of 13 local Healthwatch branches, including Darlington, which teamed together to collect and analyse 2,480 surveys and meet around 300 people in focus groups.

With the aim of giving voices to people across the region, results from the research will be shared with the NHS to be used to help develop services for local areas.

The survey found many people wanted easier access to services which promote a healthy lifestyle – and said currently, barriers to accessing such help included cost, excessive travel and services being available only during working hours.

People in Durham, Darlington, Teesside, Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby said what they needed most to help them live healthy lives was “access to help and treatment I need when I want it”, while “professionals that listen to me when I speak about my concerns” came a close second.

In Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland, residents thought support should be offered for weight problems with free, cheap or funded exercise classes and fitness programmes.

While County Durham noted the benefits social activities can have on reducing social isolation, particularly in rural areas.

People in Stockton-on-Tees said they often don’t know who to go to about their health and wellbeing needs and the highly rural Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby region expressed a need for better and quicker access to services, including GPs, mental health and physiotherapy.

Michelle Thompson BEM, Chief Executive Officer of Healthwatch Darlington, said: “At a time of increasing pressure on NHS services and financial budgets, this research highlights how people want to be more involved in the management of their care and to make joint decisions with professionals.

"To do this they want better knowledge through well communicated information and more options through better access to primary care and more joined up working between services.”

Mark Adams, Ken Bremner MBE and Dr Neil O’Brien, of the North, Central and South ICPs, said: “We will take forward the report findings from the region to develop an outstanding ICS which demonstrate that we have been able to involve patients and communities at the earliest stage possible when we talk about our plans and priorities."