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Technology cutting the need for hospital visits

12:00am | & Health

NHS doctors and nurses are using ‘Skype’ – a kind off video phone call between computers – to help older people get faster care, reduce avoidable ambulance call-outs and help people stay out of hospital.

The on-call Skype NHS team takes around 8,000 calls a year from wardens working in sheltered accommodation, care home staff and community teams looking for expert support for their residents.

Previously they would have needed to call an ambulance, but in the past two years they have prevented 3,000 avoidable visits to A&E and freed up 2,000 GP appointments by solving problems via Skype. It means elderly people get the right support in their own home, avoiding the disruption – and in some cases distress – of an emergency hospital trip.

The scheme in Tameside, Greater Manchester, is part of a programme of integrated services being rolled-out across the country as part of the NHS Long Term Plan, with smart use of technology enabling quicker, more personal care delivered as efficiently as possible. Quicker care has made the service more effective and efficient, freeing up £1.3m and hundreds of hours of NHS staff time, to care for patients with urgent needs.

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England’s Medical Director, said: “Putting every person’s individual care needs at the centre of joined-up services, supported by smart technology, is the heart of our Long Term Plan for the NHS. What matters most to every patient and their family is that they get the right treatment, at the right time, so integrating services – across communities and between councils, carers and hospitals – is not only good for the people we care for, but a more efficient use of NHS resources.”

Peter Grace, a registered nurse who works taking calls in the digital centre, explained: “By setting up a direct link between services and the doctors and nurses at the hospital’s digital health team, we were able to offer guidance, advice and reassurance as well as being able to see the patient on Skype. Extending this to housing wardens, working with the council, has taken the project to the next level as now we can also help with issues in sheltered accommodation, such as falls.”

Working together and with patients, carers and local groups, health leaders in the Tameside have developed:

  • digital health and community response teams helping avoid unnecessary admissions
  • an ‘Extensivist team’ – GPs and clinicians working closely with high-need patients reducing A&E attendance by 58% within the group of patients that the team sees
  • a £1.3m funding boost to the voluntary sector to provide 2,500 social prescribing referrals a year
  • Home First, led by their Integrated Urgent Care Team seven days-a-week, to help people get home in a timely way once medically fit.

The pioneering systems developed in Tameside are now being assessed and refined with a view to rolling them out to other parts of the country, so that more people can benefit from these technological advances.

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