Finding the right support to provide the NHS with the capacity needed


Dr Jean Challiner, Medical Director for Medinet, outlines how the NHS must harness spare capacity from all corners of the health and care sector to meet this period of unprecedented service demand.

As has been made abundantly clear by the Prime Minister earlier this month, the NHS is suffering from a severe capacity crisis. In addition to emergency departments tackling the toughest winter on record, 7.21 million people are currently on an elective care waiting list and staff shortages are crippling service delivery.

The Prime Minister himself acknowledged that these trends existed prior to Covid-19 but the pandemic has escalated the problem beyond what the NHS is able to tackle without added support. “With so many people waiting longer and longer for elective care, patients’ conditions are worsening and becoming urgent for some,” reflects Dr Jean Challiner, Medical Director for independent healthcare provider, Medinet.

Dr Challiner stresses that for Medinet, who have a two decade history of providing dedicated ‘insourcing’ for NHS trusts to boost capacity, the time patients are spending waiting for treatment is having a drastic impact on their work. “We used to almost exclusively offer capacity in the NHS for low complexity day cases, but now the priorities within the NHS are very different, and there is a growing need for us to address more urgent and more complex cases.”

Medinet holds the country’s largest pool of expert clinicians across 20 different specialties, and supplies teams to provide additional clinical capacity to enable hospitals to meet waiting times targets and then work with them to ensure these are not breached. In the last 12 months, 170,000 patients have been seen and treated by Medinet’s clinical teams.

The fact that Medinet teams work in close conjunction with NHS clinical teams and within existing estates means that they can adapt their service offering to include more complex surgery when needed. This includes cancer surgery and other procedures that fall under the realm of specialised commissioning. Medinet’s large pool of consultants, often made up of part-time NHS doctors or recent retirees, can perform most procedures, although they rarely tackle acute emergency procedures.

Reforming the referral process

Beyond directly boosting capacity with additional staff, Medinet have looked to enhance NHS efficiency and bring down backlog figures by reducing time to referral for patients. With cataract surgery, (accounting for one of the largest elements of the elective waiting list with 600,000 patients waiting for a procedure) patients are now having to wait up to two years to have their cataracts assessed.

“We are seeing some trusts getting twice as many referrals in certain areas as before and you can’t instantly train the necessary staff to meet this demand in the short term,” says Dr Challiner. “Part of our process is to not only bring in additional direct expert capacity where required but also help enhance overall efficiency or perhaps deploy existing resource differently.”

Based on a study conducted with a customer in Scotland, Medinet consultants have recently put forward recommendations to bring down cataract wait times across England, particularly for low risk patients. The study set out to determine the suitability of community cataract referrals for a one-stop cataract surgery service and the target areas for referral refinement. The results of the study showed that waiting time was significantly reduced – an average of 30 weeks for one-stop patients. Approximately one quarter of referrals were considered suitable for the one-stop service and many more may have been suitable if there had been more information in their referrals.

Capitalising on system reform

While Medinet services are still primarily commissioned by individual NHS trusts, the development of integrated care and closer collaboration between individual providers could potentially create opportunities for Medinet to expand its service offering elsewhere. “There is a huge opportunity within ICSs to change the model of harnessing spare capacity and applying [it] to other parts of the system. ICSs must provide the framework for providers to break out of regional, professional and organisational silos and boundaries to alleviate the capacity crisis currently being faced by the NHS.

“As providers evolve their service offerings to meet new challenges, they must be able to highlight where new capacity where is required without fear of reprimand.”

Encouraging active dialogue

Under no illusions, Dr Challiner acknowledges that the Medinet model is not a magic bullet to NHS capacity pressures as there are fundamental obstacles that can restrict impact. “Operating within existing NHS estate allows us to work much closer with NHS teams,” she says, “but we face regular challenges with bed availability, as we cannot conduct day case surgery unless there are beds available for recovery if needed. We also often have difficulty in simply finding the space within a trust for Medinet to operate in work or having a trust staff lead on hand to provide trouble shooting assistance or can locate replacement equipment if required.

“We encourage trusts to highlight new ways in which we can boost capacity. We are seeing an NHS that is working tremendously hard, and we want to help them. Nothing is off bounds for us, to help tackle what is most important, so we need the NHS to talk to us, and engage in discussions to look for possible solutions that are risk assessed and will work.”

Medinet’s position as a capacity booster has placed it in a unique position to reflect on the various challenges that lie within the NHS backlog. Last year, the organisation released its Manifesto for Better, outlining how they plan on supporting hospitals across the country to support commitments to improve access to treatment, empower patient choice, and provide the capacity required in response to the growing backlog of elective services.


Non-emergency transport is crucial for winter resilience 

ERS winter resilience

Seasonal pressures and existing backlogs look set to increase demand for non-emergency transport this winter. Writing for ICJ, ERS Medical’s Chief Executive Andrew Pooley, and Quality and Governance Director Simon Smith, outline why they are pushing hard for winter transport resilience.

The NHS was already experiencing significant pressures, even before this winter’s challenges. Although a smaller component of the NHS, non-emergency transport services (NEPTS), which provide transportation for patients with non-urgent conditions but who would struggle to travel independently, play a pivotal role in maintaining smooth patient flow.  

Last year, ERS Medical launched a campaign to raise awareness of non-emergency transport. The aim of this, in part, is to emphasise the importance of non-emergency transport and more importantly, to encourage the earlier booking of contingency winter patient transport shifts to support hospitals with patient discharge and alleviate some of the anticipated winter challenges.

Easing system pressure

Delays to patient discharge cause significant patient flow issues, and these are well documented. News headlines often focus on bottlenecks and delays via front door admissions, such as A&E, and the significant pressures being faced by emergency departments.  

However, if beds are not available in hospital wards where patients can be treated after assessment in A&E, there is less capacity for newer patients to be admitted. The traffic jam at the exit route now becomes a problem at the entry points for patients, as well as preventing ambulances from returning to the community, increasing already dangerously long ambulance response times.  

One of the main reasons for the patient flow crisis is the availability of social care. There is a direct correlation between the absence of an ongoing care package and higher rates of readmission. Further, discharging patients too early without any ongoing care and proper safeguards in place will often mean the patient is readmitted sooner or later. Poor discharge protocols can also lead to an increase in complaints and reputational damage for hospitals. It is no surprise then that discharge coordinators and healthcare staff have such a tough balancing act to manage, in addition to their workload challenges. 

The role of transport  

Transport can play a huge role in addressing the discharge backlog, and booking transport early is vital. This may sound simple enough, but transport is an often-overlooked aspect of the discharge process. When patients are ‘made ready’ for discharge, this is often the first point at which transport is considered. However, booking transport in advance, preferably the day or so before the patient will be ready to leave, is usually more efficient. While it is difficult to be a hundred per cent certain that a patient will be ready for discharge on a particular day, clinicians often have a good indication of when discharge might be feasible and appropriate.  

To this end, planning and communication are essential. Planning the transport in advance, booking it and then communicating with the provider if the plans change for any reason are crucial elements in the efficient discharge of patients. This ensures there are enough resources available in the system for trusts and integrated care systems to keep the patient flow running smoothly.  

One solution that is showing promise is to appoint specialist patient transport liaison officers (PTLOs) in hospitals. This “human” point of contact is a specially trained individual who can assess transport needs and then recommend the best approach on a case-by-case basis, often communicating with patients, hospital staff and families to keep everyone informed.  

Lessons from previous spikes in demand 

Contrary to conventional wisdom, one of the key insights from looking at our data (as illustrated below) is that spikes in winter demand often arise, not because of increased activity levels, but because of changes in booking behaviour, patient mobility, an increase in aborted journeys, and the subsequent need for more resources to accommodate these changes.  


Let’s take a hypothetical fleet of 10 vehicles servicing a local acute hospital. With the “normal” commissioned pre-planned booking behaviour and mobility mix, the activity matches resource and there are no service issues. Add in just one complex journey – for example, an obese patient that requires an additional crew to assess the property and support the journey – very quickly, that can reduce 10 per cent of available resource for more than half a day.  

Add in multiple issues – for example, bookings made at the last minute, or with incorrect mobility requirements, or patients’ drugs not being ready at the pickup time – and it is possible to see how demand outstrips built-in spare capacity and pressures build in the system. Integrated care boards (ICBs) should act with caution when being presented with supposedly easy fixes. The Uber model does not work with a regulated service that relies on trained staff and specialist equipment, and simply drawing on resources from outside the contract often fails because other services will also be under pressure, as they rarely hold spare capacity. The simple answer is to plan well in advance – it takes time to mobilise a fully compliant NEPTS ambulance crew, communicate with all stakeholders and educate healthcare staff about the correct use and limitations of the NEPTS service.  

Providers should also re-examine the point at which mobility assessments are carried out. When hospitals carry out patient mobility assessments, this is often done at a fixed, predetermined point. If a patient is independently mobile, but has been sitting and waiting for a doctor’s assessment, the patient’s mobility levels could deteriorate. When crews arrive to pick up a patient that has been booked on a seated vehicle to accommodate four patients, the crews undertake what is called a dynamic mobility assessment of the patient. They then establish whether or not the patient can walk independently, and whether they might now require a wheelchair or stretcher. This means that the vehicle originally booked to transport the patient is no longer suitable, and more, or different, resources are required.  

The reality is often different to the perceived activity levels  within NEPTS, where the ideal scenario is multiple patients in the same mobility category travelling in one vehicle. If transport is planned at the last minute for patients with the lowest mobility (patients who need stretchers), this blocks out a significant number of vehicles in one go, thereby increasing delays and placing a greater strain on existing resources.  

Of course, effectively balancing these factors comes down to proper planning, communication and funding contracts on actual resources needed, not just activity levels. This does not mean simply communicating with transport providers, but also between hospital departments.  

How the ICS can unify data and relieve elective care

How ICSs can unify health data

In taking decisive action to bring down elective care backlogs, Mid and South Essex Integrated Care System has demonstrated the value of industry collaboration – made possible by the new ICS construct.

With over seven million people on elective care waiting lists, unifying data strategies and enhancing visibility across health providers has never been more important. UK health and care transformation has long been hampered by historically fragmented approaches to data infrastructure and these complex vulnerabilities were laid bare nationally throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting aftermath.

With such vast numbers of people stranded on backlogs, providers need data infrastructure to illuminate patient waiting lists, to provide absolute clarity as to who is waiting for what and to ensure that those who are in most urgent need are prioritised.

“There are opportunities for a partnership-based approach to care reform, allowing innovators to innovate as part of a cross-sector team”

In many respects, the development of integrated care systems (ICSs) has been fortunately timed to deal with such an issue. Central to the population health mission of ICSs is integrating data strategies and overcoming the obstacles posed by legacy data systems. There is also an opportunity for a revitalised provider-supplier relationship – with the ICS onus on collaboration over competition, there are opportunities for a partnership-based approach to care reform, allowing innovators to innovate as part of a cross-sector team.

This is in part the mindset that has defined the approach from Mid and South Essex Integrated Care System (MSE) to deal with its own elective care backlogs. MSE is responsible for the care of 1.2 million people, across Basildon and Brentwood, Mid Essex, South East Essex and Thurrock. According to the latest referral to treatment data from NHS England, there were 153,000 people across MSE waiting for non-urgent surgery in August 2022. Like in many other systems, MSE’s backlog covers multiple disciplines and as such requires a multifaceted solution to aid with prioritising those in most urgent need while pushing for further optimisation wherever possible.

To meet this challenge, system leaders across MSE have harnessed the new ICS framework to lead a data led transformation. In May 2022, system leaders kickstarted a partnership with leading NHS data solution specialists, Insource Ltd, to combine data from three acute sites to optimise waiting list management across the MSE system.

Articulating the problem

The core objective of the project is one of visibility. Historically siloed approaches to health data infrastructure have left a fragmented data landscape across the NHS, and this is no different for MSE. Competing legacy Patient Administration Systems (PAS), used under the former CCG constructs, had made it more difficult for providers to develop holistic plans to deal with issues such as elective backlogs.

“You can’t address the backlog if you do not fundamentally understand the nature of the problem”

PAS systems support the automation of patient management across hospitals, allowing them to track patients and manage admissions, ward attendances and appointments and as such are crucial for managing waiting lists. “Tracking and managing patients along complex elective pathways is technically difficult even with one PAS. Today’s NHS needs to manage patients safely across several hospitals in one ICS, making that challenge even bigger,” says Dr Rob Findlay, Director of Strategic Solutions at Insource. MSE has three different PAS systems in use across its acute sites, as well as three different theatre systems.

Insource have begun implementing its data management platform to unify and enhance data visibility across these three hospitals, creating a unified data foundation for system wide recovery, and has now created a unified Patient Tracking List (PTL) across the MSE system. In layman’s terms, the PTL provides a single view for all clinicians and operational managers across the ICS, detailing exactly who is waiting for acute care, for how long, for which specialty and what their clinical priority is – allowing for those with the most urgent needs and those waiting longest to be treated first.

“You can’t address the backlog if you do not fundamentally understand the nature of the problem,” says Barry Frostick, Chief Digital and Information Officer for MSE, who has spearheaded the project alongside Dr Rob Findlay. Reflecting on MSE’s enhanced backlog visibility Rob says, “when the NHS approaches us with a problem, our goal is to help the system clearly think through the challenges and accurately articulate the nature of the challenges they are facing, this way, the potential solutions that could be applied start to become obvious.”

A strategic partnership approach

The size and scope of MSE’s backlog necessitates a truly collaborative approach that develops holistic solutions to reflect the needs of all stakeholders and voices. “The project so far has benefitted from a clear alignment between the provider and supplier. This relationship is far more of a partnership than your typical supplier-provider relationship,” says Barry.

“There is a rich level of intellectual engagement and respect for these challenges across MSE”

From an Insource perspective, this type of relationship allows for a much richer dialogue between provider and supplier – necessary to deal with complex data issues. As Rob explains, “from talking to consultants, medical staff, and managers, it is clear that there is a rich level of intellectual engagement and respect for these challenges across MSE – this engagement has been a hugely enjoyable and rewarding part of this project and has been central to its success so far.”

While Insource have decades of experience in unifying operational data, a system wide, automated PTL is new to the NHS and the fact that MSE have managed to implement such a solution after only being in official existence for a few months is a remarkable achievement. However, despite the initial success, neither Barry nor Rob are getting ahead of themselves – both insist that this is not “miracle working”, but rather harnessing the new ICS structure and laying strong groundwork though effective leadership to create a fruitful partnership.

How has the ICS enabled this change?

‘Partnership’ has become an oft-repeated term in the context of integrated care, so much so that it can at times become an abstract concept. But the relationship between MSE and Insource has already borne tangible, significant fruit in the form of a PTL that now acts as a “single source of truth” on waiting lists across the system. Progress has been down in part to the renewed ICS focus on collaboration over competition (the latter defined much of the approach taken by former CCGs toward industry partners).

“There’s a higher level of involvement and a much higher level of accountability than the commissioner function used to have”

The partnership ethos visible here is in part down to the new ICS structures. Previous provider/supplier relationships under the CCG structure were simply based on providing a service, “whereas today,” says Barry, “the ICS has allowed us to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our industry partners.”

For this project, the new ICS structure for MSE has allowed system leaders to take a step back from the day-to-day operational grind of service delivery. “The ICS acts as a critical friend to NHS services on the ground, making more impartial decisions, taking a step back and seeing the impact that a potential solution would have across the system” explains Barry.

Rob argues that the ICS is much closer to the frontline than the old commissioners were within CCGs, giving them “more skin in the game”. He says, “there’s a higher level of involvement and a much higher level of accountability than the commissioner function used to have. This allows us to harness the huge potential that the ICB has to intelligently bring together the different sectors, including the mental health, social, community and primary care sectors, as well as the acute sector, which tends to get the attention and is the initial focus”

Ultimately, the initial success of this project will be judged upon how MSE’s elective care backlog figures change over the coming months and years. However, with the new sense of visibility offered by the PTL – few could argue that its impact will be anything but positive. In fact, those closely involved in the project are already looking ahead. There is serious expectation that this new bank of centralised data, accessible system wide, will enable revolutionary improvements across the MSE system.



Acute Care, News, Population Health

Virtual wards are failing patients and clinicians: we must bridge the gaps before winter

virtual ward

With virtual wards vital to the NHS’s ability to function this winter, three experts assess what is needed to bridge the gaps in provision ahead of increased demand.

In early August, NHS England unveiled its new plan to increase the NHS’s capacity and resilience ahead of winter’s inevitable pressures. An increased use of virtual wards featured prominently in this plan, in line with their national target of 25,000 virtual beds to be operational by 2023.

With hospitals overwhelmed like never before, it’s not hard to understand why transferring patient care into the home – in a safe and controlled way – is an extremely beneficial proposition. But existing solutions are missing the mark. Despite much innovation, delays in adoption mean that the full transformative potential of the tech-enabled hospital at home has not yet been realised. We are now at a tipping point: on the heels of a global pandemic and one of the busiest summers yet, a tough winter is looming. It is time to get virtual wards right; for patients, for healthcare professionals and for the NHS.

Existing solutions don’t go far enough

‘Virtual wards’ are not new and versions of the concept – including ‘Hospital at Home’ – are already being used to support unwell and deteriorating patients to stay at home, as well as to discharge patients from hospital sooner.

What is generally considered to be a virtual ward often extends to little more than remote monitoring at home. While this does free up hospital beds, the impact on both clinical time saving and patient outcomes falls well short of potential.

This is because, overwhelmingly, staff must use old, inappropriate tools to manage remote patients – tools that weren’t built for this new paradigm. Many approaches are manual, slow, admin-intensive, and not advanced enough to scale.

New ways of working need new solutions

Remote care requires an entirely different way of working, and needs new technologies to manage it and make it scalable. Right now, communication and the flow of critical information is blocked. Electronic task lists and care coordination features are not flexible enough to fulfil the unique needs of virtual wards, where patients are not co-located with healthcare staff. Integration is near non-existent, and workflows are not built for mobile access, nor do they allow tasks to be allocated and tracked in real-time.

We must go further for patients or clinicians. A true virtual ward solution can do more – should do more – to protect patients and make clinicians’ jobs more manageable.

Creating a true virtual ward

If virtual wards are to be done correctly, and their potential fully realised, innovation and action must focus on six areas:

1. The right information at the right time

For virtual wards to save valuable clinical time and ensure high quality care, data generated in patients’ homes must be of equivalent quality to that captured in hospital. It should also be distilled into actionable insights to save clinicians from filtering large amounts of data. And here lies the problem.

The 2019 Topol Review emphasised that large volumes of unfiltered data can be immensely overwhelming for an already overworked workforce. We know that conventional remote monitoring generates noisy data that wastes clinical time and can mislead clinical assessments, introducing risk.

To overcome this, advanced tools are needed, such as those utilising AI, to take on the time-consuming task of reviewing millions of data points to ensure quality and translate data into insights.

    2. Seamless patient engagement

Patient engagement tools must be a core component of virtual wards, ensuring patients have a positive experience and feel confident that they can contact the clinical team if they need.

Good patient engagement provides a seamless experience whether a patient is co-located with clinicians in an acute hospital setting, or in the community.

Patients should receive ad hoc or scheduled contact via a method that suits them. This could be a digital assessment form sent to the patient, providing a low cost but highly effective method that complements data gathered from remote monitoring devices.

Patients should also be able to easily request a phone, video, or in-person appointment at a time that suits them.

In combination with care coordination and remote monitoring tools, effective patient communications are a powerful way to keep patients safe and them and their families reassured.

    3. Proactive rather than reactive management of health

Moving from reactive to proactive management of patients’ health means two things for virtual wards:

Firstly, care must be targeted to patients pre-admission to hospital instead of post-discharge. This means initiating virtual care in the community to minimise the risk of admission, especially for ambulatory care sensitive conditions. More importantly, when it comes to avoidable admissions to hospital and frail patients, this could prevent a deterioration in their condition, which could happen off the back of a hospitalisation and could cost them their independence.

Secondly, mechanisms must be in place for early detection of deterioration. Therefore, being able to identify early signs and intervene before complications and readmissions to hospital become inevitable.

    4. Health equity by design

The pandemic has revealed the multi-layered inequities that impact healthcare access and healthcare outcomes. One way in which virtual wards must address these is by investing in scalable community workforce models – that include healthcare assistants – to support care delivery to patients who cannot self-administer.

A second way to promote equity is by ensuring that no one is digitally excluded due to, for example, poor WiFi connectivity or lack of digital confidence or capability. Equally important is to look beyond physical symptoms to integrate social determinants of health into the modelling, planning and delivery of virtual wards.

5. Effective skill-mixing and empowerment

Enabling a diverse network of multidisciplinary staff to participate in the delivery of virtual wards is critical to resourcing these new models of care without adding to doctors’ and nurses’ workloads.

From healthcare assistants, to patients, to their friends and family members, different stakeholders should be empowered to fuel a proactive model of care at home. This includes training, decision-support tools and streamlined workflow management – and requires tools to handover and assign the right tasks to the right healthcare professionals – to cover the effective identification and appropriate escalation of health issues.

    6. Effective task management

The best outcomes from virtual wards will result from multidisciplinary staff having secure access to a shared list of patients and the tasks that need to be done for them. They should be able to review the list in virtual ward rounds or whenever required, add and allocate tasks, and mark them as accepted, in-progress, or completed for colleagues to see or track. The entire team ought to have visibility and be able to collaborate and coordinate care remotely, ensuring caseload management is efficient and safe.

Automated workflows can make it easy for staff to identify where readings from intelligent remote monitoring devices fall outside of set ranges, supporting safer and more effective clinical decision-making.

Enabling a new era of care delivery

At this moment, NHS organisations have a unique opportunity to begin the virtual wards roll out on the strongest possible footing, with the best solutions in place. A focus on the six pillars that encompass care coordination, patient communication and remote monitoring, will accelerate a successful transition to a new era for care delivery, and help establish virtual wards as a credible, scalable alternative to acute hospital admissions.

Elliott Engers is CEO at Infinity Health.

Tom Whicher is CEO at DrDoctor.

Elina Naydenova is CEO at Feebris.

Acute Care, News

Post-pandemic decrease in prescriptions could be leading to avoidable deaths 


Medicines used to treat serious and long-term conditions are not being prescribed as often as they should be following the pandemic, raising fears that this could be causing avoidable deaths from heart disease and strokes. 

New analysis by Analytics firm Lane Clark & Peacock (LCP) LLP, of almost 9 billion prescriptions dispensed by pharmacies in England between 2017 and 2022, has highlighted that blood thinners and hormone treatments for cancer are among the medicines that have seen a marked decrease in prescriptions since Covid hit.   

Blood thinners reduce the risk of blood clots and can prevent strokes, but prescriptions are 5 per cent lower than expected, meaning more people could be having avoidable strokes.  

Prescriptions for hormone treatments for certain types of breast and prostate cancer are also 4.4 per cent lower than expected, which could be the result of delays in diagnosing people with cancer and starting them on treatment.   

Dr Ben Bray, Principal in the Health Analytics team, commented: “We know that heart disease and stroke deaths were the largest contributors to excess deaths in the community for men in 2020 and the changes that we are seeing in prescription patterns could explain why we may be seeing more people dying from these types of diseases. Trying to tackle the backlog is a mammoth task for policymakers, but data like this is crucial to making sure the right patients and issues are targeted.” 

Some medicines have seen an increase in use such as treatments for coughs and respiratory diseases – potentially related to the treatment of the symptoms of Covid or Long Covid. 

Industry expert, Dr Deborah Layton, PhD FRPharmS FISPE, Director PEPI Consultancy Limited, UK, said: “No-one can deny that the impact of the pandemic on provision of healthcare has been profound. In brief, the results demonstrate a surge in prescribing of medications for symptomatic relief of relatively minor (acute) respiratory conditions and health supplements, with a concurrent decline in prescribing of medications for chronic disease.  

“The authors also report that these changes have not returned to pre-pandemic levels. Whilst this elegant study illuminates changes in health service provision arising during the pandemic, it does not necessarily imply a causal relationship. Nevertheless, studies like this inform us further of changes in services, particularly in primary care that we are now just getting to understand.” 

Acute Care, News, Social Care

Innovation uptake in West Midlands reduces A&E visits from care home residents by 30%

West Midlands innovation social care

The West Midlands Academic Health Science Network (WMAHSN) has released its 2021-22 Impact Report, highlighting the innovative solutions that have contributed to improving health and generating income growth across the West Midlands, and nationally. 

Key achievements outlined in the report include a 30 per cent decrease in A&E visits from care home residents, across the West Midlands, as a result of the spread and adoption of deterioration management tools such as ‘Stop and Watch’.  

Over 1,255 West Midlands care homes engaging in the test and adoption of deterioration management tools to improve safety for care home residents. More than 1,365 patients in the region are also benefiting from the prescription of PCSK9i inhibitors, a revolutionary medicine that helps lower cholesterol.  

About the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network 

The WMAHSN is one of 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) across England and plays a pivotal role in ensuring innovations are shared faster regionally, nationally and internationally. Its goal is to make the West Midlands healthier, more productive and deliver the best possible clinical outcomes for patients. 

AHSNs connect the NHS and academic organisations with local authorities, the third sector and industry, and create the conditions to facilitate change across health and social care economies. 

Over the last two years, the organisation has grown to support the efforts around delivering its strategic programme themes, which includes cardiovascular disease prevention, mental health resilience, and workforce innovation and transformation.  

The new report highlights the WMAHSN’s ability to adapt and pivot its services to address the region’s shifting needs and priorities, including supporting the region’s response to the pandemic. This not only demonstrates its ability to remain agile, but also how the organisation is uniquely placed to support the needs of its partners and future proof the region’s healthcare sector, for years to come. 

Tony Davis, Director of Innovation and Commercial at the WMAHSN, said: “It is our mission to transform health and social care through innovation. Therefore, it is inspiring and positive to see organisations across the region adopting these innovations to respond to our complex health, and social care system. 

“In collaboration with partners, and organizations around the West Midlands, we intend to keep strengthening our ability to work nationally, regionally, and locally, and maintain the environment we have helped create to improve the overall health and wellbeing of our communities.” 

As the WMAHSN approaches its tenth birthday in 2023, the organisation continues to aid local health and care systems, looking at how its workforce supports NHS England and NHS Improvement, and the Office for Life Sciences priorities, ensuring that patients in the West Midlands have access to the best health and care services. 

Other key highlights from the WMAHSN Impact Report includes:

  • Four providers in the West Midlands have adopted HeartFlow, a non-invasive, cardiac test for stable symptomatic patients with coronary heart disease. Over 5,000 scans were performed nationally during last year led nationally by the WMAHSN.
  • A 30 per cent decrease in A&E visits from care home residents, across the West Midlands, as a result of the spread and adoption of deterioration management tools such as ‘Stop and Watch’. Over half of care homes (63 per cent) in Staffordshire and Stoke-On-Trent have fully adopted the deterioration management tools.
  • The creation of the QI Notify-Emlap application and a pilot scheme in partnership with The Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust. The app supports clinicians to use their National Emergency Laparotomy Audit data more efficiently to drive their emergency laparotomy quality improvement work. Early results from the pilot suggests regular usage could reduce ‘Door to Theatre’ time.
  • Promoting alternative forms of treatment to those from an ethnic minority background, living with a learning disability or autism with the STOMP project. The project aims to reduce the over prescription of antipsychotics, often oversubscribed to these groups, by increasing medication reviews.

To read the full impact report, visit the WMAHSN website.

Acute Care, News, Primary Care

Experts urge NHS to leverage position as England’s largest employer to help fight health inequalities

NHS ICS health inequalities

Public Policy Project’s ICS Network has urged the NHS to leverage its position as England’s largest employer and to realise its potential for social and economic rejuvenation.

The calls came at a recent webinar, where PPP and ICJ released the latest findings from the ICS Futures roundtable series. The series saw ICS leaders from across the country convened for three Chatham House debates to identify challenges and opportunities in integrated care, to scale best practice and provide ongoing practical advice for system leaders and care providers. The series ended with an open webinar discussing the Next steps for integrated care. 

The webinar was held to coincide with ICSs taking statutory footing on July 1st, and was chaired by Matthew Swindells, Joint Chair of West London’s four Acute NHS Trusts & former Deputy Chief Executive of NHS England. Mr Swindells was joined by Dr Penny Dash, Chair, NW London Integrated Care System, Paul Maubach, NHS Midlands’ Strategic Advisor on ICS Collaboration and Laura Stamboulieh, Partner, Strategic Advisory for Montagu Evans.  

The role of the NHS  

There was a particular focus was on the role of the NHS itself in tackling the wider determinants of health. One lesson from the pandemic that was learnt across the country was the impact of low trust – particularly among more deprived areas of the country. As is well documented, vaccination rates were significantly lower in parts of the country relatively high on the deprivation index, and these sectors of the population tend to have poorer health outcomes more generally.  

“Part of the problem is not employing people from those areas”, suggested Paul Maubach, contending that a lack of representation from these areas has contributed to low trust of authorities and public services, healthcare included. It was agreed that choosing to adopt more proactive and inclusive recruitment strategies would align with the wider agenda to address and reverse health inequalities.  

The need to differentiate between health inequalities and healthcare inequalities was also a central topic of the session, particularly in view of what the NHS and ICSs can feasibly impact upon. Many drivers of poor health are deeply rooted in socioeconomic trends far outside the purview of health and care professionals, but there is much that can be addressed in the short term with the right focus and the right policies.  

For example, one of the greatest drivers of poor health in later life are educational outcomes. In turn, a crucial indicator of lower educational outcomes in the future is poor oral health at the age of two, so ensuring better access to NHS dentistry among more deprived cohorts would allow those more at risk to be identified, engaged, and supported by their local health and care systems, as well as improving access to dental services themselves.  

This area of discussion highlighted one crucial, but often overlooked point; that all health and care services are interconnected, and ultimately, are trying to achieve the same outcomes. Part of the role of ICSs, therefore, is to create a culture where all stakeholders collaborate to achieve this shared goal (improving population health).   

To this end, Dr Penny Dash argued the importance of those on integrated care boards (ICBs) having clearly delineated areas of responsibility and accountability, to create clarity over how different parts of the system fit together and to ensure that decision making does not become bogged down in bureaucratic hierarchies. “If you can’t answer the question related to your remit, you shouldn’t be at the table.”   

The importance of data was emphasised throughout the session – both from a population health management perspective, as well as the effective planning and monitoring of estates and facilities. 

It was posited by Laura Stamboulieh that “the role of the estate as an enabler is often overlooked. The ultimate delivery of ICSs will rely on a well-developed health and care estate.” On this point, it was noted that NHS estate planning has evolved little since the introduction of digital healthcare and the increase in remote working. As such, an updated, modernised approach to estate planning will be essential to delivering effective, integrated care, at scale. 



Community Diagnostic Centres: A critical response to regional inequalities

CDC regional equality

The latest report from Vanguard, Assessing the current state of play of CDC delivery across England, 2021, provides much needed clarity on the current status of CDC rollout and identifies where more support is required to achieve regional equality in healthcare provision.

The backlog in patient care is affecting every region across England, with waiting lists at an all-time high and services struggling to keep up with demand. Community diagnostic centres (CDCs) were earmarked by Sir Mike Richards as a necessity across communities to support quicker and safer access to both elective and diagnostic procedures in 2019.

A few years and a global pandemic later and the need for streamlined diagnostic service provision is now greater than ever.

An additional layer to the elective care crisis is the disproportionate impacts being felt across England; while no region of the country has been left untouched by the crisis, some are clearly being affected more severely than others. The approach to delivering CDCs is also disjointed across regions and their respective integrated care systems (ICS).

To deliver high-quality diagnostic care in the face of the backlog, a joint up and co-ordinated approach is vital. The latest report from VanguardAssessing the current state of play of CDC delivery across England2021, outlines the findings of a Freedom of Information (FOI) research project, undertaken in 2021. The findings of the report not only provide a bigger picture on the current status of CDC rollout but also identifies where more support is needed in order to achieve regional equality in healthcare provision.

Compounding inequalities

Health inequalities have been widening across England in recent years and these societal fault lines were underscored by the impact of Covid-19. There is currently a gap of almost 19 years in healthy life expectancy between the most and least deprived areas of the country. Further still, during the pandemic average life expectancy fell for the first time since 2000.

Higher rates of Covid-19 were concentrated in the most deprived areas of England, intensifying pressure on the hospitals and care services within these regions. This has caused patients living in these areas to suffer the greatest disruptions to elective care services.

According to evidence submitted by the Health Foundation to the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee, patient treatment completion in the most deprived areas of England has fallen by 31 per cent, while completion fell to 26 per cent in the least deprived areas. Regional inequalities are only set to widen as the effects of the pandemic continue to impact patient waiting times.

 “A joint up and co-ordinated approach across England is vital to minimise the disruption to services and reduce the patient care backlog.”

Targeting inequalities with CDCs

The Vanguard report, Assessing the current state of play of CDC delivery across England, 2021, provides an overview of current CDC delivery across England. The region with ICS, STP and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) that are farthest along in their delivery strategy is the Southeast. A high proportion of respondents reported to have a strategy in place and expect their CDC to be fully operational in the next three years. The Southeast also had the highest proportion of respondents that identified CDCs as a high spend priority.

Contrastingly, just one-third of respondents in the West Midlands identified CDCs as a high spend priority. Furthermore, the West Midlands region has the highest waiting lists for all procedures in England, accounting for 20.5 per cent of all national waiting lists as of July 2021. It is evident from the current picture of CDC roll out that more regionally tailored support is needed to level out delivery across the country, ensuring that the impact of CDCs is maximised.

Central to the CDC ‘mission’ is to minimise regional inequalities by supporting the delivery of integrated care, helping to join up disconnected patient pathways and bring services closer to the communities that use them. It is hoped this will expand capacity and improve access to care. By increasing the capacity to tackle waiting lists, the successful implementation of CDCs could help to reduce healthcare inequalities and disparities in patient outcomes.

Lindsay Dransfield, Chief Commercial Officer at flexible Healthcare Spaces provider, Vanguard said: “CDCs are an essential component to reducing patient care backlogs, creating more accessible healthcare for individuals in more deprived areas.

“Following the recent government announcement that £2.3 billion is to be spent on increasing diagnostic activity across the UK, it is now more important than ever to reduce regional health inequalities through the introduction of more CDCs.”

Fair access to funding

While the Health and Care Levy, introduced in September 2021, provides significant funding for tackling waiting lists and elective care backlogs, there remains significant challenges in ensuring equitable distribution of funding. For CDCs to be rolled out with more consistency across England, the government must ensure that regions are able to fairly access funding and support. There is currently a lack of clarity across ICS/STP/CCGs around how decisions are made to allocate funding, this lack of guidance is detrimental to regions already being impacted by higher waiting lists and capacity issues.

The Vanguard report recommends that the government and NHS “remove bureaucracy in the national procurement process to ensure CDC delivery is accessible for all bodies involved with the ICS”. Unnecessary bureaucracy in the procurement process has cost and time implications for healthcare providers, in some cases making it impossible for them to undertake the application process.

On top of reducing bureaucracy around funding, the report recommends putting in place regionally ringfenced budgets for CDCs that are calculated based on a number of indicators, such as waiting lists, current budgets, staffing requirements and available land. This will ultimately help to provide a more consistent approach in the roll out of CDCs and subsequently generate fairer patient outcomes.

A co-ordinated approach

Central to the NHS Long Term Plan is the goal of delivering fully integrated community-based healthcare. To achieve this, the Vanguard report demonstrates the need for a clear framework for CDC delivery to provide clarity across ICSs. A joint up and co-ordinated approach across England is vital to minimise the disruption to services and reduce the patient care backlog, but the benefits must be felt equally. With the most deprived areas of England facing some of the harshest consequences of the pandemic, the roll out of CDCs is an important step in ensuring accessible and equal healthcare.

The Vanguard report recommendations include:

  1. Put in place clear, accessible national funding streams in order to secure confidence in CDC delivery and enable the development of long-term, futureproofed plans.
  2. Ringfence central Government funding for CDC delivery per region, assessed on a range of factors (such as number of patients, average time for delivery of care, number of ICSs in region) to ensure the roll out of CDCs is fair and serves to actively reduce regional inequalities.
  3. Develop localised awareness and education programmes for ICSs to ensure all bodies involved with CDC delivery are aware of the opportunities available to them in terms of funding, partnership opportunities and have access to necessary additional support to ensure the success of CDC delivery.
  4. Broaden the national awareness of regional health inequalities and provide additional support and resources, beyond funding alone, to regions suffering from covid-related backlogs to better prepare them for future incidences of heightened pressure and to prioritise patient outcomes.
  5. Remove bureaucracy in the national procurement process to ensure CDC roll out is accessible for all bodies involved in the ICS.
  6. The Government and NHS should actively identify appropriate infrastructure partners who can rapidly design, build and commission appropriate high quality, safe clinical infrastructure and develop a register of verified infrastructure delivery partners to ensure CDC delivery is consistent on a national scale.
  7. Develop a sustainability guide for CDC delivery to help the NHS reach its goal of Net Zero carbon by 2045.
  8. Promote Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) for CDC delivery to transform existing facilities and create purpose-built new estates that have the flexibility to be re-purposed and expanded upon, enabling a rapid response to changing demands and enabling ICSs to build out there CDC in a modular fashion to tackle patient waiting lists.

Clarifying the metrics: A true picture of system wide activity


Maria Kane, Chief Executive of North Bristol NHS Trust, addresses the need for defined and aligned metrics to provide one overall picture of system wide activity and reveal where improvements can be made.

Every acute trust is facing three challenges: the elective care debt, urgent care recovery and an exhausted and depleted workforce. With Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) on the horizon, we have an opportunity to step back and look at the bigger picture to see where we can make system improvements to meet these challenges and add value to the patient, public and taxpayer.

However, it is difficult to understand what is going on in any given health and care system. This is because the finance framework and metrics currently available are not defined or aligned enough to help determine the exact value (cost and outcome) of activity the funding is producing.

A clear picture of each health system

Each ICS will be responsible for allocation of funding at system level. The aim is to distribute resources according to population need and to help reduce health inequalities. However, all payment systems are complex and to ensure the right calculations for payment of care and enable health systems to provide the right care in the right places, it is vital to have access to the right sources of data. Where patient-level data is limited, this can impact on how system budgets are allocated.

Currently, trusts are operating with a mixed economy of block and activity contracts. Most of these are now block contracts since Covid-19 began, but there are also have large numbers of individual providers on specialist and general contracts, which makes it difficult to see the big picture. Specialist contracts, for example, can cover wide areas which makes it harder to pin down what is happening in each ICS. Operating with a variety of contracts like this can create significant challenges when trying to set out a whole system budget.

A greater understanding of each system

ICSs provide the health system with an opportunity to clarify and get on top of the metrics and to have a single interpretation within each system. This will allow the scope to broaden and incorporate areas such as mental health.

Giving full responsibility of finances to ICSs and enabling them to operate the whole budget will bring many benefits and allow good population health management. However, there needs to be a shared understanding of how local services are run to ensure all areas of the system are given adequate funding. All members of the ICS need to understand how each part of the system works and it is crucial that financial decisions are based on a sound knowledge of the challenges across the whole system.

Bringing together sources of data from across community, primary and acute care can help to provide one overall picture of how the system is performing. Data can highlight where funding needs to be focused to help create change, improvement and the best patient care, as well as being able to highlight areas where proactive care can start to make a difference, but  the finance framework and metrics need to be tackled first.

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