Q. Why is NHS Scotland falling short of its waiting list targets?
A. Around 770,000 patients are on waiting lists in NHS Scotland and clearing the lists can be daunting for those working in the NHS and frustrating for the patients left in limbo.
The pandemic has put huge pressure on the system, creating lasting effects for Scottish healthcare, and health boards are moving to reduce waiting times and stop adding to the number of long waits.
Initiatives, like Consultant Connect, are helping to connect primary care to specialists, ensuring only patients who need to be seen in hospital are referred, and those who do not need to be seen are directed to the most-appropriate place for their care, first time.
The combined effects of COVID-19, shortages in clinical capacity, and difficulties in rolling out new pathways, mean waiting lists are still very high and, while progress is being made, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Q. What role do you think technology generally has to play in supporting health systems to reduce the backlog of patients waiting for treatment/diagnoses?
A. In the long term the NHS needs to evolve by investing in technology.
We are already seeing the huge impact of technology on the NHS to increase efficiency – everything, from constantly improving electronic patient records, to artificial intelligence in dermatology is being implemented.
This also means that technology has to be adopted by NHS healthcare professionals.
GPs, paramedics, and consultants have to use the tech, otherwise it will have been pointless to invest in the newest health innovations. Therefore, the implementation and management of new software and services is crucial to the adoption of technology in the NHS.
Q. How has Consultant Connect been used to address this issue?
A. Picture this, you visit your GP with a health issue, but they are uncertain about your symptoms. The GP immediately calls a relevant NHS consultant using an app to ask for advice on your symptoms.
While, in the past, you might have faced a long wait for a hospital appointment after a referral to a specialist, the new service allows for much-quicker communication between healthcare staff.
In Tayside, the prof-to-prof service started initially with the consultants carrying a handset from an old-fashioned landline.
The line was very well used and very popular, so, in 2018, Consultant Connect started working with NHS Tayside to address difficulties with resources and clinical governance.
Clinicians could see the benefits of Consultant Connect immediately – calls could be recorded and logged, and they could get a much-more-detailed view of how many calls were actually being taken.
When COVID-19 hit, NHS Tayside was able to use Consultant Connect as a resource to support its COVID-19 activity as well.
Q. What outcomes can be expected through the use of this technology?
A. This tech enables GPs to seek advice and guidance efficiently.
So far, over 70,000 calls were placed across the projects in Scotland, in Greater Glasgow & Clyde, Lanarkshire, and Tayside Health Boards. The GP selects the relevant specialty, and the tech dials through a list of numbers.
If one consultant cannot pick up, it automatically moves on to the next.
Consultant Connect has rapid contact lines for over 40 specialties, including cardiology, diabetes, and elderly care.
On average, calls are answered in just 30 seconds and this means patients can be seen quicker, which has been proven to save lives. Across Scotland, one in four patients avoided unnecessary hospital visits, but, when needed, the patient is sent to the right department.
It’s a win-win situation, ensuring patients get the care they deserve more quickly, more efficiently, and to a higher standard.
Q. Do you have any advice to other trusts/health boards looking to use similar solutions to help address the waiting list backlog?
A. Implementing new projects and pathways will always grow modestly at first, but ultimately the use of tech grows organically as more people adopt it.
Although a lot of care is similar, there are meaningful differences in each NHS area and NHS hospital.
So, rather than trying to change things centrally using a ‘one size fits all’ model, NHS hospitals should have the freedom to invest in innovation that would be best for their local area.
Successful local projects can have a large impact leading to regional expansion and, from there, into other regions.
That is how Consultant Connect grew.
In 2015, we launched our first project with North East Essex, covering around 300,000 patients. Now, we’re knocking on the door of 40 million patients across the UK.
Q. What are your plans to further develop the product to offer additional support in the future?
A. A key area for us is improving on our work with Scottish Ambulance Services (SAS).
Before Consultant Connect, paramedics would have to get specialist advice from the SAS clinical support desk or patients’ GPs.
This meant paramedics had to wait for clinicians to return their calls, resulting in long queues outside hospitals.
Consultant Connect’s technology provides paramedics with immediate contact to specialists 24/7, which helps reduce delays. We are also working to improve prof-to-prof services in remote and hard-to-access NHS practices in Scotland.
As well as providing rapid advice to patients, the service would mean consultants will not have to make long journeys to different areas of Scotland.
Regions with difficulties accessing specialist advice, particularly in north Scotland, would massively benefit from technology facilitating prof-to-prof communication.