The NHS’s use of digital tools continues apace, with NHS Borders piloting a virtual ward for Covid patients, and the government announcing plans to enable patients with rare diseases to have telehealth consultations with multiple consultants. The health and care secretary has also set a target for 90% of NHS trusts to have electronic patient records by the end of 2023. Elsewhere, it looks as if one outcome of increased collaboration between hospitals in the pandemic could be the creation of a single supergroup of hospitals in Liverpool.
The health and care secretary, Sajid Javid, wants 90% of NHS trusts to have an electronic patient record (EPR) by December 2023.
Speaking at the Health Service Journal’s Digital Transformation Summit, Javid set out four priorities for transforming health care: making sure the NHS is set up properly for success; levelling up across the NHS and social care; pursuing personalisation; and making “big breakthrough bets” on emerging technologies and data.
Javid wanted to make sure that the NHS had the right structures in place to support digital transformation, which was the reason he had decided to merge NHSX and NHS Digital into NHS England. As well as making a commitment to “accelerate the rollout” of EPRs in hospital trusts, he said he intended to double the proportion of social care providers with a digital care record from 40% to 80% by March 2024.
The rules that require care workers to be vaccinated against Covid are being lifted from 15 March in England.
According to the government, the population now has greater immunity against Covid, and hospitalisations are falling. The now-dominant Omicron variant has been less severe than the earlier Delta variant. In a statement the government said that it was right to “revisit the balance of risks and benefits that had guided the government’s original decisions.”
Under the original rules, anyone working in a care home in England had to receive two doses of the Covid vaccine by November 2021. Those who remained unvaccinated had to leave their jobs. While the vast majority of staff agreed to have the vaccine, about 50,000 refused.
Bosses at six Liverpool NHS trusts are in talks to discuss a possible merger, creating a £2bn group of hospital providers. The trusts, which between them run eight hospitals, would formally co-ordinate resources and workforces.
The six trusts involved in the talks are Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (LUHFT) which runs the Royal Liverpool, Aintree and Broadgreen hospitals; Alder Hey Children’s Hospital; Liverpool Women’s Hospital; the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre; Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital and The Walton Centre.
Under the current proposals, each trust would retain its own board and identity, but it’s possible that they could form a single organisation further down the line.
During the pandemic, the trusts often shared staff and facilities. In a joint statement, the six trusts said: “The advantages of always thinking of how collaboration and a shared focus can deliver the best care for those we serve have been even more obvious during the pandemic. It is sensible that we continue to do that in future, in the spirit of seeking the best for our patients.”
The government has published a Rare Diseases Action plan that includes the use of digital tools and virtual consultations, with the aim of helping people with rare diseases benefit from faster diagnosis and improved access to treatment.
The plan has 16 commitments to improve the care of patients. These include the use of a new digital resource called GeNotes to enable healthcare professionals to access information on rare diseases quickly, so they can diagnose them effectively and quickly. The resource will also link to the NHS Genomic Test Directories and signpost extended learning opportunities.
Another commitment is to develop a new toolkit for virtual consultations, designed to improve the effectiveness of telehealth calls by making it easier for patients to coordinate care between multiple specialists, without the need to travel.
NHS Borders is piloting a new virtual ward for patients with Covid-19, with the aim of both improving the patient experience and freeing up hospital space for other patients.
The trial began on 14 February and will run to 31 March 2022. It involves three groups of patients: those already in hospital because of Covid-19 and who are getting better; those who have presented at hospital because of Covid-19 and need some treatment, but can receive it safely at home; and those who have tested positive for Covid-19 and are eligible for antiviral treatment.
Patients taking part receive a pulse oximeter and a patient diary to record their symptoms. They are contacted every day by a clinician to discuss their readings and symptoms, and how they are feeling. They have also been given a number to call if they need advice or support, or feel that their condition is getting worse.