Rollout of solutions as UK follows US as leading centre for assistive technologies
Just days after Labour’s Shadow Health Minister, Andrew Gwynne, demanded more evidence from the coalition government of the positive impact of telehealth technologies, Whitehall has announced the rollout of solutions to more than 100,000 patients in England.
Speaking after the recent EHI Live 2012 conference, Gwynne challenged the Government to publish the detail behind its calculations that the widespread deployment of telehealth systems could save the NHS in excess of £1.2billion.
But, in the clearest indication so far of the Government’s recognition of the key role assistive technologies will have to play moving forward, the new Health Minister, Jeremy Hunt, this week set out his vision for improving the lives of people living with long-term conditions.
I want to free people with long-term conditions from the constant merry-go-round of doctors’ surgeries and hospitals
Speaking at an Age Concern conference, Hunt said patients would be given support to take more control over their own health and wellbeing, with an ambitious target of three million telehealth users by 2017.
And he revealed that seven ‘pathfinder’ NHS trusts and local authorities, including GP commissioning groups, were soon to agree contracts with suppliers that would see 100,000 people benefit from telehealth solutions over the next 12 months.
The move makes the UK the leading centre for telehealth outside of the United States.
Under the ‘pathfinder’ initiative, suppliers will not charge an upfront cost for the technology and will instead be funded via monthly tariff or pay-as-you-go style plans. It is expected the reduction in costs realised through improvements to patients’ conditions and fewer hospital admissions will help to offset this.
Hunt said: “People with long-term conditions see doctors and nurses more than most of us – £7 out of every £10 spent on the health budget go towards supporting them. I want to free people with long-term conditions from the constant merry-go-round of doctors’ surgeries and hospitals.
“Technology can help people to manage their condition at home, free up a lot of time and save the NHS money. In a world where technology increasingly helps us to manage our social and professional lives, it seems logical that it should also help people manage their health.
In a world where technology increasingly helps us to manage our social and professional lives, it seems logical that it should also help people manage their health
“With our industry partners, we will make England a world leader on telehealth. Getting another 100,000 people to benefit from this technology is a very important step and I congratulate all involved on their hard work. I hope it will be the first of many steps towards our overall goal of getting three million people to benefit in the years to come.”
David Nicholson, chief executive of the NHS Commissioning Board, added: “Telehealth not only saves lives, it transforms them, so that people with a long-term condition can feel in control of their life. The seven pathfinders that are offering this new technology to patients will give the NHS Commissioning Board important insight into how best to extend this option to any patient managing prolonged ill health or a chronic condition.
“Working closely with the local commissioners involved and informed by their experience, we plan to promote vigorously the use of telehealth across England from next April.”
Many of the systems will be installed into the homes of the elderly, who are more vulnerable and increasingly more likely to suffer from long-term conditions.
Commenting on the potential impact this could have on their quality of life and ability to live independently for longer in their own homes, Michelle Mitchell, charity director general at Age UK, said: “Talk of the ever-growing costs of an ageing society and the increasing number of people living with long-term conditions misses a fundamental point – poor health and use of services are not always inevitable.
The seven pathfinders that are offering this new technology to patients will give the NHS Commissioning Board important insight into how best to extend this option to any patient managing prolonged ill health or a chronic condition
“Supporting people to care for themselves and equipping them with the skills and tools to manage their health must be a priority for the NHS. For some, telehealth will play an important part in achieving this. Empowering people to respond to changes in their long-term conditions or helping them take control of their symptoms could help them to remain independent for longer and avoid the need for health services. For older people, this can mean staying in their own home and retaining confidence to carry on with their day-to-day lives.
“We welcome this strong commitment to self-management of long-term conditions. Whilst telehealth is not a replacement for face-to-face appointments and direct care, it could give many people a real chance of taking control of their health and improving wellbeing.”
The news has also been embraced by suppliers. Simon Arnold, UK managing director of Tunstall Healthcare, told BBH: “The Government’s commitment is absolute, but we also require a major shift in thinking from the clinical communit. Industry has a key role to play in helping make the doctor’s life easier, whether by system integration, care pathway redesign, or via patient engagement and evidence of outcomes.
"As a global provider, we are proud that we have enabled many thousands of people to be supported to live the life they want to live, and look forward to working with industry colleagues and professionals to enable even more people’s lives to be transformed by telehealthcare over the coming year.