The pressures on the NHS continue – but there are new attempts to address them. The government is planning to offer more virtual wards for patients, enabling them to be monitored at home rather than take up hospital space. More money will be spent on hospital beds and ambulances, and the 111 service will be expanded to provide direct access to specialist mental health support. The problem of missed appointments will be addressed by sending text messages to patients offering last-minute slots. We will have to wait to see how effective all this is in addressing A&E waiting times and cutting the seven million strong waiting list for appointments.
The government is to announce plans to open virtual wards for patients in England.
These will enable some patients to be monitored remotely by wearing devices that measure, for example, blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen levels and send the results to a central system that clinicians can see.
There will also be more community teams visiting people in the home.
The decision has been made in response to the severe pressure on the NHS and a growth in waiting times in A&E.
The government is spending £1bn to provide thousands of extra hospital beds and hundreds of ambulances in England.
There will be 5,000 new beds (a 5% increase), and 800 new ambulances (a 10% increase). The hope is that the investment, introduced from April, will enable the NHS to get closer to meeting its waiting time targets, including seeing 76% of A&E patients within four hours, and achieving an average response time of 30 minute for category 1 and 2 emergency calls, such as heart attacks and strokes.
The King’s Fund health think tank said, however, that until the staff shortage in the NHS was addressed it was “hard to see” how the plan would have an impact.
NHS 111 is to expand its offering to include increased access to specialist paediatric advice for children and direct access to urgent mental health support.
The offer is part of a larger plan to improve urgent and emergency care services.
Parents and carers seeking health advice for children and young people either by calling 111 or consulting the NHS 111 website will have increased access to specialist advice. This will include support from paediatric clinicians who can help them manage illness at home or decide the best route for their care. Some children will be referred directly to a same-day appointment with a specialist rather than attending A&E.
An increased number of clinicians – including retired staff and returners – will join NHS 11 to provide the improved service to patients, with flexible working options available.
Three acute trusts in Norfolk (Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals, Queen Elizabeth Hospital King’s Lynn and James Paget University Hospitals foundation trusts) are launching a tender process for an electronic patient record system (EPR) that will be used across all the trusts’ hospitals.
The contract, which will be valued at £155m, represents one of the NHS’s most ambitious digital programmes in recent years. While there have been other large-scale digitisation projects, NHS trusts in Norfolk have lagged behind when it comes to digital implementation. The decision to implement the EPR across three trusts makes the project more complex. Sam Higginson, chief executive of NNUH, told HSJ that the trusts planned to launch the procurement process in March, and aimed to have a preferred provider by the autumn, with deployment beginning in early 2025.
Patients are to be sent text messages to secure last-minute hospital appointments, with the aim of reducing the number of slots wasted.
The NHS has told trusts to have introduce short notice lists of patients who are able to take standby slots on a first come, first served basis. Last year, more than 7.5 million hospital appointments in England were missed because patients did not attend. Current figures show that there are seven million people on waiting lists.
NHS chiefs believe that many no shows could be avoided if trusts had better systems to allow patients to cancel and rebook or to offer a remote appointment.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is to deploy Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Service and a Microsoft Azure data platform.
The data platform will, CQC hopes, enable it to become more agile and to drive improvements for the providers it assesses. At the moment, for example, the production of insight reports, such as infection prevention control reports, is a lengthy process. The implementation of the new platform will speed up that process, and teams will be positioned to be able to respond to incidents or issues more quickly.
Mark Sutton, Chief Digital Officer, CQC, said: “As an organisation, we have an ambitious strategy to transform the way we regulate… we want to become a smarter regulator with technology, data and insights at the core of how we work.” It will also allow the CQC to reduce the number of digital tools it uses and to bring them together in one place.