Residents of more than 100 care homes in Preston and Chorley have been given instant access to healthcare thanks to a new project by Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
The trust has been able to prevent a large number of avoidable hospital admissions since the launch of its new ‘Digital Health’ trial project at the start of this year.
Lancashire Teaching Hospitals has become the first NHS Trust in the UK to partner with Tameside and Glossop Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust, which pioneered the Digital Health system four years ago.
Digital Health works by providing care homes with tablet computers and equipment to monitor key patient observations such as blood pressure, temperature, heart rate and oxygen level.
When a care home resident becomes ill, the tablet device can be used to make direct contact with the Tameside and Glossop Digital Team.
The team takes clinical responsibility for the patient, using the observations provided by the equipment to make decisions on the kind of care needed.
In some cases, use of the system means that patients might normally have been taken to an Emergency Department for assessment are able to stay at home.
The project launched on January 18, and since then has handled around 500 calls and helped to prevent more than 130 Emergency Department attendances.
Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Nursing, Midwifery & Allied Health Professions Director Sarah Cullen said: “The care homes that have engaged with the project have found great assurance in having the Digital Health system there for them.
“This is all about making sure the patient is kept front and centre. Although this was initially aimed at reducing admissions to hospital by supporting care homes, we have found by working in partnership across our system, GP capacity has been freed up as a result of this work.”
The team at Tameside and Glossop is led by Clinical Nurse Lead Peter Grace, known by many as his Twitter handle @DigitalPete.
Peter said: “At the start of the project it soon became quite clear that it wasn’t going to be as straightforward as we anticipated, but after solving some issues with IT and equipment we started working with a small number of homes to test out the concept, and quickly began to see that the system could bring the same benefits to Lancashire that it has brought to the Tameside and Glossop areas.
“I’ve enjoyed working with the team at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals. It’s been nice working with another health economy.”
The scheme has been expanding since the launch of the pilot, with the aim of rolling out the scheme to 109 care homes in the Preston and Chorley areas.
Dr Jeremy Hann, a GP at Park View Surgery Preston and Clinical Director for Greater Preston Network said: “The service provides prompt, timely and appropriate treatment, assessment, and follow-up of patients. It sits well with networks who are overseeing chronic health problems and supports GP practices in delivering emergency care."
As well as rolling out to more care homes, Lancashire Teaching Hospitals is working on further enhancements of the system, including exploring making therapy assessments available to care home residents via video following falls or other injuries.
Feedback for the system has been positive, with care homes staff describing the service as ‘helpful’, ‘reassuring’ and ‘incredible’. One care home said access to the service meant ‘a massive pressure lifted off our shoulders’.
Nursing, Midwifery & Allied Health Professions Director Sarah Cullen said: “Minimizing hospital admissions has been more important than ever during the last year, in order to protect older patients from deconditioning that occurs when in hospital for long periods and the obvious risks of COVID-19 infection.
“This partnership with the team from Tameside & Glossop is helping to ensure patients get the right care in the right place, and only come to hospital if they need to.
“As we emerge from the Covid pandemic we are keen to explore innovative ways of working and this project highlights the opportunities that exist to improve the experience our patients have.”
The trial is due to run until July.
Photo: Preston Private Nursing Home Unit Leads Jackie Barnfather and Kirsty Topping (front) with (from left) Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust Chief Allied Health Professional Claire Granato with Clinical Nurse Assessor Louisa Bardsley and Business & Project Manager Brian Anyasodor from Tameside and Glossop Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust.