The big news this week is that the chancellor has doubled the NHS’s efficiency target, which, if achieved, will free £4.75bn for the NHS’s priority areas. NHS organisations such as Cheshire and Merseyside ICS and NHS Tayside are already doing their bit to improve efficiency by implementing technological solutions to improve diagnosis and treatment: in the case of the first, a remote dermatology solution, and in the second, an early warning system for hospital patients. Covid, meanwhile, is still at large in the community, and the government has introduced a new booster vaccination programme for the over-75s.
The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has doubled the NHS’s efficiency target from 1.1% to 2.2% a year. The move will free up £4.75 billion to fund NHS priority areas, the chancellor said in his spring statement.
Sunak confirmed that the new health and social care levy, which takes the form of a 1.25% increase in National Insurance payments, will come into force in April. He also announced that the threshold for making NI payments would rise from £9,880 to £12,570 in July, protecting people on low incomes and making sure that the burden would fall on higher earners. The impact of the raised threshold is not yet clear, but the promised additional £12bn funding for health and social care has been ringfenced.
Cheshire and Merseyside integrated care system (ICS), in partnership with four acute trusts in Liverpool, Wirral and Cheshire, has implemented technology that will enable GPs at 228 practices to consult dermatologists remotely, without the need for a patient appointment. The ICS hopes that the new technology will ease pressure on both primary and secondary care.
With the help of a smartphone-compatible dermatoscope, GPs are able to use their own phones to take clinical images of moles and other skin lesions. A smartphone app from Cinapsis enables them to send the images to a digital platform where they can be reviewed by a dermatologist. The images and the outcomes are updated in the patient record.
NHS Tayside is to deploy an early warning system across 975 beds in its hospitals. The system, Miya Observations, will alert clinical staff when patients show signs of deterioration, enabling them to focus on patients in need of immediate assistance.
The technology, which is being provided by Alicidion over a five-year contract, is already in use in two other health boards in Scotland. The board hopes that it will reduce the number of negative clinical outcomes for patients, and enable staff to manage risks relating to deadly conditions more effectively.
Patients in London who are on an NHS waiting list for mental health therapy will be invited to take part in a £1m trial of an AI chatbot called Wysa. The trial, which is being run by Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, will look at whether Wysa can stabilise or even reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression while patients are waiting for treatment.
Wysa uses natural language understanding to give advice to patients based on clinically-reviewed cognitive behavioural techniques. The responses are individually tailored to meet each user’s needs.
People in England who are aged 75 or more, as well as residents in care homes and those with weakened immune systems, are now able to book an additional booster jab against Covid-19. Spring boosters are also being rolled out in Wales and Scotland.
The introduction of the booster vaccines follows advice from UK experts who say that the jabs will improve protection for the most vulnerable. The booster programme is expected to be extended to other groups in the autumn.
The UK is currently experiencing rising cases of Covid-19, with one in 20 people infected.