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Can a university rescue a city when the local authority fails? | Education

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The new Northampton campus opens in September. John Robertson for The Guardian

Fiona Burbeary, senior professor of occupational therapy at Northampton, says that some of the sickest residents have already found their access to preventive health and social care severely limited.

"After the council's bankruptcy, its First for Wellbeing service, which GPs requested for all types [of community help] said that now they can only deal with the 'slightly fragile'," she says. She and her departmental colleague Deborah Hewson saw the opportunity to use the skills of his third-year students to help these vulnerable residents.

Helen Arnfield, a recent graduate, made a 12-week placement in a GP practice in her junior year. She says that the difficult situation of some patients was "really complex". "There is everything from a lovely house to a dirty and dirty room infested with mice." A person with a disability was being intimidated by local drug addicts and was too afraid to leave.

The impact of locations like Arnfield's will be long-lasting: with the guidance of the Northampton University business team, he has prepared a successful business case for his role to continue now that he has qualified. This will reduce the pressure on A & E, the police and the acute social and mental health services, and offers a model of preventive social care that other GP practices could follow.

The rest of the university staff also presents creative ways to cover some of the gaps in the services. Jacqueline Parkes, a professor of applied mental health in Northampton, is putting her department's experience and research experience to use in psychosocial support workshops twice a week for people with dementia and their caregivers. "What happens after a diagnosis [of dementia]? There is very limited help until there is a crisis," he says.

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