IN his final column as health reporter, Ben Butler takes a look at the current state of the NHS in East Lancashire.

Today, I leave the Lancashire Telegraph after more than two years at the newspaper, and I have seen many positive and some more negative aspects of the health service during my time here.

And as is the case across the country, there is undoubtedly pressure on the NHS in East Lancashire as it grapples with funding pressures and rising demand.

This is especially the case with mental health services which undoubtedly are stretched to near breaking point.

Campaigners and health chiefs from Lancashire and South Cumbria Foundation Trust, the organisation which runs mental health services in the county, alike, have acknowledged there is a shortage of mental health beds in the community.

The problem has left vulnerable patients travelling hundreds of miles for treatment, while others are enduring near five-day waits in Royal Blackburn Hospital A&E for beds.

Clearly, A&E is not a place for mental health patients to be, and more funding for beds in the community is urgently needed.

There is also the unacceptable situation of people with common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, some of whom will be feeling suicidal, waiting months on end for treatment such as talking therapy, even if the clinical commissioning groups in the area are generally hitting treatment targets.

Then if we look at the situation at Royal Blackburn Hospital, the A&E is one of the busiest in the country and is under a lot of pressure, with the emergency department, like many others, not meeting its national target for 95 per cent of patients to be seen with four-hours.

That said, there are many positive aspects of the NHS in East Lancashire.

At East Lancashire Hospitals Trust, with Kevin McGee as Chief Executive, it has turned itself round in the space of a few years, from being placed in special measures to currently being rated as good.

While amongst the many investments at the trust, is the opening of a major £15.6 million ophthalmology centre, outpatients departments and maxillo facial facilities, at Burnley General Hospital.

It is the same at Royal Blackburn Hospital, which will soon see a new £9.95m medical unit open in a bid to reduce pressure on A&E.

While, although there are problems with patients accessing GP appointments and GP numbers, GP patient surveys shows that 86 per cent of patients rated their overall experience of GP practices in Blackburn with Darwen as good this year, compared to 84 per cent last year.

So there are many great things happening in the NHS and staff, including doctors and nurses, are delivering amazing care to patients.

Going forward, my challenge to any government (General Election next month if anyone needs reminding), is to give the NHS in East Lancashire and across the country, the funding, resources and staff it needs to cope with the demands of the 21st century.

I have thoroughly enjoyed covering all health issues and hope that our first-class, world-class NHS thrives for many years to come.