People are struggling to see GPs, they are struggling to have appropriate care, hospitals are at times full (often with people who could be at home if care packages were in place) and ambulances are kept waiting. It is obvious that the current system of NHS care is not working.
Now, the Government has responded by announcing that tens of thousands of elderly and vulnerable people will receive tailored support at home each month as part of a new NHS plan to:
- curb unnecessary trips to hospital
- help at-risk patients receive faster treatment
- improve ambulance response times
It comes as the government and the NHS publish a new urgent and emergency care plan.
Demand on the NHS is rising, driven by a number of factors including an ageing population with increasingly complex needs. A key part of the plan will be reforming (always slightly wary of this word in government-speak) the way the NHS provides services to adapt to the population’s changing needs, including expanding care outside of hospitals, with falls and frailty teams mainly consisting of nurses. These teams join up care by connecting hospital expertise with emergency services and use technology to reduce the risk of falls by remotely monitoring patients.
With an ageing population, falls are becoming increasingly common, and some people are less able to cope and recover from accidents, physical illness or other stressful events, which can lead to serious injuries, hospital admission and subsequent moves into long-term care. These services support vulnerable patients at home and in the community to remain living independently for longer, with up to 20% of emergency hospital admissions avoidable with the right care in place. That is key, of course, having adequate and responsive staff available for it to work.
The NHS has already rolled out virtual wards – treating patients in their own homes – as an efficient alternative to hospital care, particularly for frail patients. These see patients being supported by clinicians to recover in the comfort of their own home, rather than in hospital – and have increased the number of patients that can be cared for in this way by 7,000, a 50% increase since last summer. Another 3,000 ‘hospital at home’ beds will be created before next winter and the plan will include an ambition to see up to 50,000 people supported a month.
High-tech virtual wards currently support frail elderly patients or those with acute respiratory infections and cardiac conditions. Patients are reviewed daily by the clinical team who may visit them at home or use video technology to monitor and check how they are recovering.
Urgent community response teams will also be scaled up to increase the number of referrals and patients seen by a range of health and social care professionals within 2 hours, with services running 12 hours a day. According to the latest data, across the country, over 80% of patients referred were seen within 2 hours. These teams work with 111 and 999 services to provide urgent care to people in their homes, avoiding the need for hospital admissions and enabling people to live independently for longer, backed by a planned £77 million investment to support systems to continue to improve community health services in 2023 to 2024, it is said.
As part of this, ambulance crews who are with the patient at their home can arrange a remote consultation with input from a consultant to agree the best course of action – from monitoring on a virtual ward to a face-to-face assessment. Thanks to this approach, there has been a 16% reduction in the number of patients aged over 75 being taken to hospital in an ambulance, enabling frail older adults to recover at home, where that is best for them.
Taken together, says the government, these measures will help improve experiences for patients across the country and make it easier to access the right health or social care, all while reducing pressure on hospitals and preparing the NHS for future challenges.