Leading support for those with mental health issues and learning disabilities

Adobe Spark (3)The Chief Nursing Officer has told mental health and learning disability nurses they need to ‘step up and take the lead’ in delivering ambitions set out by NHS England for mental health and learning disability services. Speaking at the NHS Expo in Manchester, Professor Jane Cummings said:

‘Nurses are creative, they’re innovative, they’re leaders, and they can really drive that change that we all want to see.’

Cummings outlined the important leadership role that mental health nurses have in delivering the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health (NHS England, 2016), and that learning disability nurses have in delivering the Learning Disability Transforming Care programme:

‘I think that nurses and midwives should be at the driving edge of change and improvement. I think there is a wealth of knowledge, a wealth of experience. And there’s a huge amount of skill set that nurses can have to really drive the change that everyone wants to see.’

Five Year Forward View for Mental Health

The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health was launched in February 2016 in an attempt to improve mental health outcomes across the health and care system, and includes an additional £1.4 billion of investment in mental health services by 2020/21. The funding will go towards the creation of 21 000 new posts, including 4600 nurses working in crisis care settings and 1200 nurses and midwives in child and adolescent mental health services. Other policies include giving an extra 1 million patients access to mental health services at an earlier stage, round-the-clock services, and the integration of mental and physical health services for the first time.

Cummings said that improvements to mental health services is one of the ‘national priorities’ for NHS England, emphasising how there is a massive amount of work going on around mental health, with a real focus on improving access to services:

‘We are particularly focusing, through the Maternity Transformation Programme, on perinatal health. As part of that we have a big workstream looking at perinatal mental health and supporting women to cope with any problems they get post birth.’

According to Claire Murdoch, National Director for Mental Health, the priorities of the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health are built on a core set of pre-existing services that are transforming and developing to create an ‘absolute, quiet and steady revolution in mental health care.’

Murdoch echoed Cummings by also calling mental health nurses to ‘step forward and step up.’ However, in order to do this she said nurses need to become vocal about their skills, and experts in co-production and working alongside mental health service users in their own care. As part of plans laid out in the Forward View, Murdoch said the NHS will see an additional 1 million extra patients. This will include 70 000 more children and young people, who will have increased access to specialist eating disorder services within the community.

Murdoch explained how further evidence-based interventions, made earlier in the pathway of illness or distress, will ‘fundamentally change the outcomes for people’s lives so that we don’t create unwittingly long-term patients for the future.’ She added that there will be more tier 4 specialist beds for children and young people suffering from serious mental health problems, particularly in London and the south, where occupancy often outstrips demand. Additional improvements in respite care, crisis houses and home treatment teams were also assured.

According to Murdoch, nurses are leading community mental health teams for children and young people. Working alongside psychologists and doctors, she explained that they are playing a key role in the management of conditions such as eating disorders. Community eating disorders services for young people largely did not exist until last year, and Murdoch commended the mental health nurses, who she said were not only leading those teams, but also breaking new ground in having to work alongside families, the young people themselves, and deliver evidence-based care in completely different settings.

One of the greatest concerns Murdoch highlighted was the current pressure on the mental health crisis care pathway. In particular she stressed the need to prevent beds overspilling into the private sector and long waits in accident and emergency (A&E) departments. However, she announced that nurses have led the way in redesigning the care pathway through the ‘development of intensive current treatment teams’ and the ‘establishment  of the psychiatric liaison teams in A&E and acute hospitals more widely.’

She believes nurses will play a ‘fundamental part’ in ‘bringing an end to inappropriate out-of-area placements.’ An example she cited was in Birmingham, where nurses are working alongside the police to dramatically reduce the use of Section 136 of the Mental Health Act, which allows the police to take a person who appears to be suffering from a mental disorder to a place of safety. She said this has enabled better outcomes for people in distress.

Though she raised concerns that large numbers of nurses are leaving the profession and that recruitment will be an additional challenge, she said ‘there has never been a better time to be a mental health nurse.’ However, she urged mental health nurses to be vocal about their skills, whether that is their skill of assessment or complex working in networks of care.

‘We need to become the experts in co-production and working alongside mental health service users in their own care. We need an effort to come up with a care plan that hasn’t been produced at least in partnership, even at times of great crisis. We need to become the experts in that space. Housing, debt, employment, the physical health care, these are the domains of mental health nurses.’

Transforming care for people with learning disabilities

Alongside improvements to mental health services, a national plan to develop community services and close inpatient facilities for people with learning disabilities has meant better care for this patient group. The focus of the Learning Disability Transforming Care programme is on giving people with learning disabilities the opportunity to live in the setting they think is home. It also aims to stop overmedication and improve access to annual health checks.

Vicki Stobbart, a disability nurse and Executive Director of Nursing and Quality for Guildford and Waverley CCG, said that while learning disability nurses may not be as high profile as other areas of nursing, their impact and value in supporting people with learning disabilities should not be underestimated.

‘Learning disability nurses are the only professional group specifically trained to work with people with learning disabilities,’ said Stobbart. ‘This level of preparation, currently provided at degree level, alongside the breadth, competence and knowledge they develop, makes them a unique and critical component on the delivery of comprehensive skills.’

Alongside presentations on the leadership role of mental health and learning disability nurses, Professor Cummings led a panel discussion with healthcare staff and service users on how nurses can play a key role in the care of mental health and learning disability patients. Organised by NHS England, the Health and Care Innovation Expo saw over 5000 delegates learn about developments and innovations taking place across health and social care.

Looking at the progress made since the launch of the Five Year Forward View, it identified a number of key areas of priority, including urgent and emergency care, primary care and general practice, cancer, and mental health.

Taken from British Journal of Mental Health Nursing, published November 2017.


Jeremy Hunt’s plans to reduce prescribing and medication errors

Adobe Spark (2)A new initiative aimed at reducing prescribing and medication errors across the NHS has been announced by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Hunt said medication-related errors are responsible for 5–8% of hospital admissions. This is due to 1 in 12 prescriptions involving mistakes relating to dosage, course length or type of medication. With just under  150 prescriptions handed out in primary care every second, Hunt has called the potential for errors ‘huge’.

Writing in the Health Service Journal, he said:

‘Up to 1 in 12 prescriptions may include a mistake and whilst we’re lucky most don’t cause harm to patients, there is more we can do to tackle the problem and make the NHS safer…That’s why I’ve launched a new scheme working with the NHS to reduce these errors and protect patients.’

According to Hunt, the scheme will explore a number of areas where he believes the NHS ‘can do better’. This includes improving the way that technology, such as electronic prescribing, is used, to ensure prescriptions are processed more efficiently; re-evaluating the way that patients are informed and educated about their medicines, to look along the pathway from prescribing to administration and monitoring; supporting 7-day clinical pharmacy services, where possible, in acute hospitals; and providing pharmacist support for care homes and GPs.

Hunt also said the programme will look at how the transfer of information about medicines when patients move between care settings might be improved, as it is during these transition points when things can often go wrong.

According to the Department of Health, the programme is likely to be launched later this year or early next year. It is aimed at helping the NHS meet the World Health Organization’s global patient safety challenge, which hopes to reduce severe avoidable medication-related harm by 50% globally in the next 5 years. An expert group is being put together to help scope the programme and establish how to improve patient safety.

Speaking at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Annual Conference, Steve Brine MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Public Health and Primary Care), confirmed how Jeremy Hunt will be working with the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer, Keith Ridge, to tackle the challenge of prescribing and medication errors:

‘Studies currently indicate that up to 8% of prescriptions have a mistake in dosage level, course length or medication type—a risk which the WHO identifies as a leading cause of injury and avoidable harm in healthcare systems across
the world.’

How might this affect nurses?

While the initiative is likely to predominantly affect GPs, it will also have an impact on the 70 000 qualified nurse and midwife prescribers. The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) recently launched a consultation on proposals for nurses and midwives to prescribe earlier in their careers.

The proposals, if implemented, would enable nurses and midwives to gain prescribing practice experience as soon as they qualify. They would, therefore, do the prescribing training as part of their degree so that they have more of an understanding when they graduate.

It is unclear how this may affect patient safety or the number of medication errors carried out by nurses. Nurse Prescribing contacted the NMC, but as their proposals are only in the consultation phase, they said they were unable to comment at this time.

Deborah Robertson, Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader in Non-medical Prescribing at the University of Chester highlighted how nurse prescribers are very aware of the risk of prescription errors, and that best practice is needed to ensure errors are minimised:

‘Nurse prescribers are already very conscious of the risk of prescription errors and in prescribing education—we spend a good deal of time ensuring that they know the legalities of prescription writing as well as the need for best practice advice to ensure the minimisation of errors.’

‘We always reiterate the benefits of team working in prescribing practice and establishing good relationships between prescribers and dispensing pharmacists to ensure prescribing errors are picked up in a timely manner and how to avoid confrontation. This also highlights the need for ongoing continuing professional development in all areas of prescribing practice.’

Taken from Nurse Prescribing, published November 2017.

New techniques at pilot sites to improve bereavement care for parents

Adobe Spark (1)A new pathway has been launched to improve the quality of care for parents who have lost a baby. The National Bereavement Care Pathway (NBCP) seeks to offer individualised, safe and sensitive care for parents and families at all stages of pregnancy and baby loss up to 12 months.

Led by Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity, it has been produced in collaboration with a core group of charities and professional bodies, comprising the Institute of Health Visiting, the Royal College of Midwives, NHS England, the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Nurses, Neonatal Nurses Association, Bliss, Antenatal Results & Choices, The Lullaby Trust and Miscarriage Association. It also has the support of the Department of Health and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Baby Loss.

The first wave of 11 pilot sites has been rolled out across the UK to coincide with Baby Loss Awareness Week and includes Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust, and Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust. The sites were chosen to be ‘representative of geography, capacity and specialism’, and will trial the use of new materials, guidelines and training for professionals to help improve the care that bereaved parents receive.

The latest figures show that in 2015 there were over 2,500 infant deaths (that is, deaths under 1 year of age) in England and Wales, with stillbirths and deaths of infants under 7 days accounting for around 6.5 deaths per 1,000 total births (Office for National Statistics, 2017).

Clea Harmer, chair of the NBCP Core Group and CEO of Sands, comments: ‘I am delighted that we have so many enthusiastic partners across the country who want to work with us in improving bereavement care for parents when a baby dies.

‘As a collaboration, we were inundated with offers of support and I am excited by the potential impact that the pathway will have in these 11 sites, in the first instance. We  look forward to learning from their experiences before wave 2 begins and the wider rollout later next year.’

A spokesperson for the Institute of Health Visiting says: ‘The Institute is pleased to be one of the key partners in the project group working to deliver a National Bereavement Care Pathway for England, with the support of the Department of Health and All-Party Parliamentary Group for Baby Loss.

‘We are really keen to support the project group with identification of community health providers [which employ health visitors] that are willing to be included in the second pilot phase. This will ensure that the pathway offers clear, consistent guidance to health visitors and enable them to work confidently alongside parents, providing compassionate and parent-centred care to those affected through use of the pathway.’

Sue Cooper is the bereavement midwife at Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust. She highlighted the important role that bereavement midwives play in providing support for parents who have lost a child:

‘Losing a child is an incredibly difficult experience and something that no parent should ever have to go through,’ Cooper says. ‘If they do, however, it’s important that we, as health professionals, are able to provide the right advice, information and support for bereaved parents.

‘The quality of care and the empathy shown to parents at a time when they are struggling with a whole range of different emotions is crucial, and our role in guiding bereaved parents through this difficult time is not to be underestimated. How we care for bereaved families when their baby dies can have long-lasting effects. Good care can’t remove parents’ pain and grief, but it can help them through a devastating experience.

Cooper is hoping bereavement care in Hull and East Yorkshire will improve as a result of being one of the pilot sites on the new pathway: ‘We’re really pleased to have been chosen to pilot the new care pathway,’ she says. ‘We’re not only hoping to improve the care we personally provide for bereaved parents, but it will mean a lot to know that what we do here in Hull and East Yorkshire will go on to shape and improve services provided for others right across the country.’

Since the project was initiated, it has engaged with over 200 professionals and 60 parents, completing a gap analysis of current pathways, guidance and research. A number of pregnancy and baby loss pathways have been created, with input from members of the NBCP Parental Advisory Group, which shared their stories to help inform the pathway.

Cathy Warwick, chief executive at the Royal College of Midwives, says: ‘This is important work because it is about giving bereaved families better care following the sad loss of a baby and we need to get it right. Learning from parents and the results of the work at the pilot sites will mean care can be better tailored to meet the needs of families.’

According to Carmel Bagness, Royal College of Nursing’s professional lead for midwifery and women’s health, it is the responsibility of healthcare staff to support bereaved parents: ‘The loss of a baby is an absolute tragedy and it is up to healthcare staff to provide the best care possible for bereaved parents and families,’ she says. ‘This pathway could really help to improve the care they receive during this difficult time. We hope this pilot is just the first step towards better care throughout the country for parents and families suffering from this terrible loss.’

Caroline Lee-Davey, Chief Executive of Bliss, adds: ‘Bliss is proud to be partnering on this project to improve bereavement care for pregnancy and infant loss. We know that being supported in the right way can help grieving parents and families at this heart-breakingly difficult time, and we look forward to working with the pilot sites to deliver consistent, high-quality and parent-centred care.’

A second wave of pilot sites is planned for April 2018, with a national rollout expected later in October.


Office for National Statistics. Childhood mortality in England and Wales: 2015. London: ONS; 2017.

Taken from Journal of Health Visiting, published November 2017.


Working in the early days of the NHS

Adobe Spark‘It was to be a big wide world but I wanted to be part of that.’ Ethel Armstrong was 18 when health secretary Aneurin Bevan launched the NHS on July 5 1948. Now 87, Ethel went on to enjoy an illustrious career within the health service. Spanning over four decades, she worked across the country in various roles, mainly in radiodiagnosis and in nursing. After retiring in 1989/90, she has continued to support the NHS through two charities, the NHS Retirement Fellowship (nhsrf.org.uk/) and Cavell Nurses’ Trust (www.cavellnursestrust.org/), making it a remarkable 70 years of unbroken service. They would love to hear from retirees from any disciplines who are now retired or coming up to retirement.

Born in Durham, Ethel began her career as a cadet. The cadet scheme was aimed at 17 year olds who didn’t know what area of the health service they wanted to get into. It offered them the chance to work in different fields before choosing a career path. She was encouraged to join by her headmaster, who told her about a ‘new scheme coming, with brand new free care for everybody from cradle to the grave.’ Feeling she had the requirements necessary for the role, he put her name forward for the scheme.

Ethel had wanted to become a doctor or dentist, but, like many in the years following the Second World War, was not in a position to pay to study for a qualification. ‘They didn’t have grants in those days,’ she says. ‘If your parents couldn’t afford to send you to university then I’m afraid you had to do it the hard way.’

Before the NHS

In the days before the NHS, healthcare provision in the UK was notably different. ‘It was a different ball game altogether; your doctor did absolutely everything,’ says Ethel. ‘The doctor’s man came round and he collected 4p for a husband and wife, and a penny for each child, so that they were put on that GP’s books.’

One of the differences Ethel recalls was the cost for the delivery of a child, which she says was one shilling and sixpence. This meant that, for those lucky few who were born on July 5 1948, their parents were saved the fee. ‘If they were born a day earlier their mothers would have had to pay one and six, but because [there was now an] NHS they got it free,’ she says.

The early years

Ethel’s first step into health care was at a large mental health hospital in Newcastle in 1947, where she worked on rotation in a number of departments. When the NHS was launched in 1948 she began studying radiodiagnosis at the city’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, which ‘wasn’t as posh as it is now’.

‘The corridors had black and white tiles, there were wooden forms all the way along and patients brought their sandwiches,’ she says. ‘You were there for half a day and you saw a medical man or you saw a surgeon.’

Qualifying in 1951, she emphasises how, in the early days of the NHS, there was a strict adherence to appearance and discipline.

‘You were taught protocol, code of conduct and dress code, and that was important,’ she says. ‘You knew who you could speak to and how you could speak to them. And that now seems to be sometimes lacking.

‘[It] made your day if the consultant stopped and said “good morning”. But most times, you were taught from a very early age that if a consultant was coming up the corridor you waited, and if there was a door to open, you opened the door. That was the discipline in 1948,’ she adds.

An evolving health service

Ethel entered the world of nursing and midwifery several years after beginning her career, but ended up returning to radiodiagnostics, her preferred area of health care. Throughout her time in the NHS she saw considerable change and advancements in technology.

‘I’ve seen more changes than you can shake a stick at,’ she says. ‘The important ones are the ones that improve lives—the other ones you just forget about, but advances in maternity services and knee replacements, hip replacements, have been tremendous.’

Next year the NHS will celebrate its 70th anniversary. Since its inception it has continued to grow. It now employs more than 1.5 million people and treats over 1 million patients in England every 36  hours. However, an ageing population has meant it is finding it increasingly difficult to meet patient demand, and many have called it unsustainable. For Ethel, though, there will always be an NHS.

‘The NHS will definitely still be here in 70 years,’ she says. ‘It will be a different format. I think you’ll be given a do-it-yourself box, everybody will have to go on a computer course, you will all have to know how to access this, that and the other. It will be, I’m quite sure, a high-tech world.

‘I connect with nurses and midwives, as well other NHS workers. My passion and commitment since retirement in 1990 is continuous, totalling a staggering 70 years. I have been overwhelmed by requests for media coverage and I have been asked if I will do it all again next year. My answer is an emphatic YES as I support every one of the workforce past and present.’

Taken from British Journal of Nursing, published October 2017.


Not enough ‘safe care’ for maternity service users, warns NHS England

Adobe Spark (8)The chair of the Maternity Transformation Programme in England has warned that not enough is being done to ensure safety within maternity services. Speaking at the NHS England Health and Care Innovation Expo, Professor Sarah-Jane Marsh, said:

‘There are too many families […] who have not had safe care, who we have let down, and we need to do better.

‘Safety has to be at the heart of everything that we do in our maternity services. We have got to get it right. We know how to get it right, [but] often we just don’t do that consistently.’

In Better Births (NHS England, 2016), NHS England emphasised the need for safer, personalised, professional, family-friendly maternity services, realised through Local Maternity Systems, the maternity element of Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs). Here, providers, commissioners and organisations work at a local level to oversee and develop health care issues.

While Marsh called the vision ‘clear’, she cautioned that it was not ‘what is being talked about in every maternity unit in the country at the moment.’

Since the Maternity Transformation Programme was launched in July, 44 Local Maternity Systems have been set up to plan the design and delivery of services to populations of 500 000–1 500 000 people. Marsh claimed that these are making headway, and are looking towards the future of maternity services ‘with a ruthless focus on safety and personalisation.’ Although services are becoming safer, she warns that performance, when benchmarked against maternity staff, ‘is not as it should be’.

Marsh also raised concerns that boards are not as focused on maternity services, saying:

‘We need to have people, at board level, who really understand maternity safety, who understand how to get it right as well as to investigate when things go wrong.’

Marsh stressed that, while visions and national programmes are important,

‘The change that really matters is that which is made by clinical teams on the ground, coming together to want to make a difference for the patients, the families, the women they care for. And the women and families themselves having every opportunity to be able to participate, feedback their experience and work with professionals to improve services.’

Marsh also highlighted the importance of multiprofessional working, saying,

‘We need to see ourselves as one big maternity team […] We have got to move away from the idea that maternity care is purely about the midwives and the obstetricians, because there is so much more to it than that. […] Those who work together and train together ultimately go on to do even more personal and safe care.’

This sentiment was also emphasised by Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, head of maternity, children and young people for NHS England, who said:

‘We are working really hard and we will continue to work hard to ensure that avoidable death is reduced in this country. We have a commitment at the moment on the table from the Department of Health: £8 million has been allocated to support education and training. This fund has been awarded to maternity services to help them develop multidisciplinary training.’

Matthew Tagney, director of the Maternity Transformation Programme, agreed that progress was being made, but warned that the NHS was still far from its target of halving stillbirths, maternal and neonatal deaths, and brain injuries during or soon after birth by 2030:

‘I think there is a tremendous amount happening both nationally and locally.We are on track for 2020 but there is a huge amount more to do.’

While progress is being made on the delivery of better maternity services, there is still a long way to go. This was accepted by Marsh, who apologised to the hundreds of families who had lost babies:

‘You have my commitment and the commitment from the team at NHS England that we will work tirelessly every day to do the things that we know work in patient safety, and to make sure there are no baby deaths in this country that are avoidable.’


NHS England. National Maternity Review: Better Births—Improving outcomes of maternity services in England—A Five Year Forward View for maternity care. Leeds, NHS England: 2016


What’s next for England’s ambulance services?

Adobe Spark (7)Details of the delivery of new ambulance standards were outlined by the National Clinical Director for Urgent Care at the Health and Care Innovation Expo in Manchester (NHS England, 2017a). Professor Jonathan Benger provided delegates with an overview of the Ambulance Response Programme, which he called: ‘the way we should do change in the NHS—change that is evidence based from the very beginning.’

Outlining the programme

The implementation of the Ambulance Response Programme was announced by NHS England (2017b) in July, following recommendations by the NHS England National Medical Director, Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, to the Health Secretary (Keogh, 2017). It consists of three initiatives that were developed to try and improve clinical responses for patients.

Phase 1 involved changes to the triage of calls to allow more time for call handlers in cases that are not deemed as immediately life-threatening. This has been referred to as dispatch on disposition. Traditionally, handlers had up to 60 seconds to assess calls and establish the urgency of the problem, and the type of response required. It is at this point that the clock is started for the performance measurement. The subsequent issue was that in an effort to meet an 8-minute response standard, ambulance services were sending multiple vehicles to the same patient and standing down the vehicles they thought wouldn’t get there first. Response cars would frequently be used as a way of ‘stopping the clock’ but then the patient would have a long wait for the transporting ambulance, which was detrimental to the patient but not measured on the system. According to Benger:

‘The problem created was one whereby a paramedic in a response car might spend their entire day just driving from one call to another but never actually reaching a patient.’

The Ambulance Response Programme therefore sought to provide a more clinically appropriate response by targeting the right resource to the right patient. For non-life-threatening calls, ambulance call handlers were given up to an additional 3 minutes to determine what was wrong with the patient and therefore decide an appropriate response.

Phase 2 involved the introduction of a new code set that has four key categories, rather than two, which better reflects the wide range of needs patients have when they dial 999. In the old system almost 50% of calls to ambulance services are classified as Red 1 or Red 2, requiring a response within 8 minutes. However, this does not accurately reflect the type and urgency of care needed by patients (Turner et al, 2017). Under the new system there will now be four revised call categories:

  • Category 1 is for life-threatening calls. These are for people needing treatment for life-threatening illnesses or injuries and will be responded to in an average of 7 minutes
  • Category 2 is for emergency calls. These are potentially serious conditions that may require rapid assessment, urgent on-scene intervention and/or urgent transport. These will be responded to in an average of 18 minutes
  • Category 3 is for urgent calls. These are non-life-threatening problems involving patients needing treatment to relieve suffering. Often they can be managed at the scene and 90% of these patients will be responded to within 120 minutes
  • Category 4 is for less urgent calls. These are for non-urgent problems requiring assessment either face-to-face or by telephone and 90% of these patients will be responded to within 180 minutes.

The final initiative involved a review of the current ambulance system, Ambulance Quality Indicators (AQI), and the development of a revised set of indicators linked to the revised call categories.

Evaluating the programme

A formal trial of Phase 1 began in October 2015 and a trial of the Phase 2 revised call categories began in three services in April 2016. An evaluation of Phases 1 and 2 was published by researchers at Sheffield University (Turner et al, 2017). Benger said:

‘We are very fortunate in the Ambulance Response Programme to have very good stakeholder engagement and excellent independent academic scrutiny from Sheffield University.

‘They have analysed the data we’ve collected from more than 14 million 999 calls. Of those 14 million patients, no patient came to harm as a result of the Ambulance Response Programme.’

The review revealed that under the new dispatch on disposition system, early recognition of life-threatening conditions, such as cardiac arrest, will increase. The knock-on effect is up to an additional 250 lives saved each year. By sending an appropriate response, more vehicles will be freed up to attend emergencies, and patients will be conveyed to the appropriate place.

According to Benger, when call handlers were given more time, rather than impeding or reducing the speed of response for the sickest patients, speed and performance actually improved.

‘The ambulance services became a lot more efficient,’ said Benger. ‘Taking the entirety of both dispatch on disposition and the new coding set together, we were releasing 15 000–16 000 additional resources each week that could respond to a 999 call, when that was not previously the case. And that’s principally from putting an end to duplicate responses.’

Evaluation of Phase 2 on its own, however, is more complicated. The use of time-based standards as a key performance measure have been used by ambulance services throughout the world, despite a lack of evidence that they actually lead to good clinical care. As Phase 2 has only been operational for a short period of time, it is not possible to say whether the new model is better, only that it is ‘different’ (Turner et al, 2017). However, the three services reviewed indicated a period of operational stability during a period of high demand, even when response time performance continued to deteriorate in services operating the current national model.

It is thought that the more flexible approach to call assessment, resource dispatch, and response intervals brought on by the combination of dispatch on disposition and the
new code set, may reduce further deterioration in performance and maintain a consistent service. However, as highlighted by the researchers at Sheffield University, a system of ongoing review and refinement is needed to optimise delivery (Turner et al, 2017).

Implementing the programme

All ambulance services are now using dispatch on disposition, and the new call categories are intended to be fully implemented by winter 2017. This will hopefully reduce pressures on A&Es during their busiest time period.

‘We wanted to make ambulance services as efficient as they could be but that we didn’t lose sight of some of the core aims: prioritising the sickest patients, making sure we incentivise clinically and operationally efficient behaviours, and trying to reduce the long waits for patients,’ said Benger.

‘When I first started in my job, I noticed that when you gathered ambulance chief executives together in a room, they would spend about 90% of the time talking about ambulance response times and 10% about clinical outcomes. I’d like to reverse that.’

As demand for urgent and emergency care sees year-on-year increases, services have to adapt to reduce pressure and ensure patients are able to get the care they need. It is hoped the new ambulance standards will go some way to making this a reality.


Keogh B. Ambulance Response Programme—letter to Secretary of State [Internet]. Leeds: NHS England; 2017. Available from http://tinyurl.com/ybfgxmfx

NHS England. What next for England’s ambulance services? Leeds: NHS England; 2017a. Available from http://tinyurl.com/yb7vzk8g

NHS England. New ambulance standards announced. Leeds: NHS England; 2017b. Available from http://tinyurl.com/yc6ywmqs

Turner J, Jacques R, Crum A, Coster J, Stone T, Nicholl J. Ambulance Response Programme: Evaluation of Phase 1 and Phase 2. Final Report. Sheffield: School of Health and Related Research, University of Sheffield; 2017.

Taken from Journal of Paramedic Practice, published October 2017.


Hunt challenges the NHS to deliver digital services by 2018

Adobe Spark (6)The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has challenged the NHS to deliver digital services nationwide by 2018 to coincide with the NHS’ 70th anniversary next year.

Hunt used September’s Health and Care Innovation Expo in Manchester to highlight the opportunity of technology in creating ‘The patient power decade’. The Health Secretary painted a pixelated portrait of a future shift in power within the NHS from doctor to patient, with the patient ‘Using technology to put themselves in the driving seat of their own healthcare destiny.’

Hunt stated that by the end of 2018, patients will be able to use an integrated smartphone app to access services such as NHS 111, book a GP appointment and even have the ability to view healthcare records online.

Currently, according to NHS Digital, 680,000 patients are viewing their medical records online every month.

In this keynote speech, he further acknowledged how ‘People should be able to access their own medical records 24/7, show their full medical history to anyone they choose and book basic services like GP appointments or repeat prescriptions online.’

Mr Hunt also stated that the app could be used to order repeat prescriptions, access support for managing long-term conditions, or express preferences on organ donation, data sharing, and end-of-life.

Hunt emphasised how the ‘master-servant relationship’ between doctors and patients that has existed for three millennia will be ‘turned on its head’, and patients will use the information that becomes available at their fingertips, ‘to exert real control in a way that will transform the prospects of everyone.’

Overcoming hurdles

If the NHS is to successfully deliver digital health services, there are a number of potential hurdles to overcome. Firstly, there are concerns over the accessibility of services for those unfamiliar with smartphone technology, or from those of disadvantaged backgrounds who cannot afford to buy a smartphone. For this reason, Hunt stressed how the new services will be for everyone:

‘If the NHS is not there for everyone, it is nothing,’ he said. ‘We recognise that not everyone is comfortable using a smartphone. So we will always make sure that when we introduce new services, there is a face-to-face or telephone alternative, for people who do not use smartphones.’

While many older people struggle with online technology, it is worth pointing out this is not always for want of trying. Hunt outlined how 400 000 people have already been trained to help get them online, and over the next 3 years, a further 20 000 digital inclusion hubs will be rolled out. Additionally, wifi will be introduced across primary care this year and secondary care next year, which is hoped will help support people accessing online resources.

Secondly, in lieu of the NHS cyber attacks earlier this year, Hunt conceded that a lot needs to be done to win back the public’s trust:

‘We have to recognise that we still have a lot to do to earn the public’s trust that their patient data is safe with us,’ he said.

As part of this, the Government announced its response to the National Data Guardian and Care Quality Commission report on data security in July. Among the initiatives are 10 new data security standards, a £21 million investment to protect trauma centres from cyber attack and new national support for unsupported Microsoft systems that were part of the original problem that caused the cyber attacks.

The role of mobile technology in delivering health services was also highlighted in a keynote speech from Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of the NHS. He said we run our social lives, financial lives, travel lives and retail lives online, so why not our health? Keogh welcomed the idea of being able to book GP appointments, get blood results or see X-rays online. However, he also recognised that it brings with it some challenges.

The first challenge is digital therapy, particularly in the area of mental health. According to Keogh, this will involve activities patients can do on their mobile phone that will improve their health, such as talking therapies, so that they do not have to visit a psychologist, psychiatrist or your GP. The NHS will have to work out how it assesses these, but importantly it needs to work out the payment mechanisms behind them so that they are available for everyone on the NHS.

The second challenge concerns what happens when people can get advice and treatment outside normal geographical boundaries. Currently, the way the NHS is structured means a GP is determined by where a patient lives. However, Keogh highlighted how already many are visiting GPs outside the area where they live. He therefore questioned what happens as more people start to access health care not just beyond their local area but beyond their regional area and possibly internationally. He stressed the need to work out who pays for what, the duties of Government and arm’s length bodies with respect to ensuring the safety of those transactions, and the legal implications. The issue is how this can be made part of the NHS, rather than creating a two-tier ‘pay for it if you can’ service.

Looking to the future

Pilot schemes are already underway, with ongoing evaluation before the digital service is introduced nationally. According to Hunt, initial results from pilots in north London, Leeds, London and Suffolk, show that when NHS 111 services are transferred online it is safe. He also pointed out that if digital health services are introduced in the right way, it will save the NHS money. He said: ‘The 6% of people who use the 111 app, rather than speaking to the call handler, save the NHS money. That’s more resources for doctors and nurse.’

Looking to the future, Hunt confirmed that the Government are trying to build the safest, highest quality health system in the world. The role of technology, therefore, is one that he believes is of the utmost importance in making this a reality:

‘As we grapple with the challenges of resources, challenges to improve patient safety, challenges to improve quality and challenges to improve changing consumer expectation, technology can be our friend if we recognise it as a means to an end and not an end in itself, and that end is safer, healthier patients,’ he said.

Taken from British Journal of Healthcare Management, published October 2017.