Is now the winter of our discontent? Exploring seasonal pressure on the NHS

My Post (1)Around this time every year, the media is strewn with forewarnings of how winter will put undue strain on the NHS. In a system already struggling to cope, there are concerns that the seasonal pressure pushes services to breaking point. The NHS’s ability to handle yearly increases in demand has led the British Red Cross to go as far as to call it a ‘humanitarian crisis’ (Campbell et al, 2017).

This article will consider the causes of winter pressure on NHS services and how they differ to those experienced throughout the rest of the year. It will explore whether the warnings are genuine or mere hyperbole, and look at some of the ways the NHS attempts to combat these pressures.

Causes of winter pressures

The leading cause of winter pressure is difficult to pinpoint, and can vary from year to year. However, there are a number of recurring contributing factors. While most health problems are not caused by extremes of cold, the weather indelibly has an effect on the number of patients attending accident and emergency (A&E) departments.

Cold weather increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes, respiratory illnesses, flu, falls and other diseases (NHS England, 2013; Public Health England, 2017). Vulnerable people— such as the very young, elderly and those with pre-existing conditions— are those predominantly affected by changes in the weather (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2015). The effect of winter on the NHS becomes apparent in early December. Performance in A&Es is measured through their ability to meet a 4-hour waiting target. One of the core standards of the NHS Constitution states that a minimum of 95% of patients attending A&E departments in England must be seen, treated and then admitted or discharged in under 4 hours (NHS England, 2015). Breaches of the 4-hour waiting standard result in trusts having to pay penalties (House of Commons Health Committee, 2016).

A&E attendances
Annual attendances at A&E departments have increased. The number of people arriving at major (type 1) A&E departments has seen a 7% rise from 2010 to 2015—from an average of 36 731 attendances per day in August 2010, to 39 220 in August 2015 (Fisher and Dorning, 2016).

Consequently, only 87.9% of patients in type 1 departments were admitted, transferred or discharged within 4 hours in 2015–16 (House of Commons Health Committee, 2016). This is clearly far below the expected standard. The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (2016a) has estimated that the increased attendance over the past 5 years is equivalent to the workload of 10 additional medium sized emergency departments.

Contrary to expectation, the highest number of A&E attendances does not take place in winter. Instead, there is an observable ‘dip’ in visits to A&E around December and January (Fisher and Dornin, 2016). The highest overall attendances are actually in the summer months. The important factor affecting winter pressure is the number of patients subsequently admitted to hospital. The highest proportion of the patient population in summer is under 60 years of age. By contrast, in the winter, it tends to consist of those over 60 years. This spike in the number of more vulnerable, elderly patients is significant because they tend to stay longer in A&E, and are more likely to be readmitted to hospital (Fisher and Dornin, 2016).

Hospital admissions
Like attendances, hospital admissions have also increased. Similarly, they have seen a 7% rise from 13 723 in August 2010 to 14 666 in August 2015 (Fisher and Dornin, 2016). There is a notable ‘peak’ of admissions during the middle of winter (Fisher and Dornin, 2016).

The difference between the proportion of patients admitted is 27.9% in winter, compared with 25.8% in the summer months (Department of Health (DH) et al, 2017).

‘Congestive hospital failure’
The rise in hospital admissions has caused a subsequent decrease in the number of available hospital beds, with the percentage of beds occupied peaking in winter (Fisher and Dornin, 2016). Due to the number of beds available for admission of acutely ill and injured patients continuing to fall over the past 5 years, the UK now has the lowest number of beds per capita in Europe, and England has the lowest number within the UK (Royal College of Emergency Medicine, 2016a). The consequence of limiting bed capacity has been a growth in general and acute bed occupancy from 86.3% in 2010–11, to 91.2% in 2015–16 (Royal College of Emergency Medicine, 2016b).

A lack of available beds reduces flow through A&Es as it slows the accommodation of new attendances (Royal College of Emergency Medicine, 2016a). This in turn affects the ability of ambulance services to off-load patients—an issue known as ‘congestive hospital failure’ (NHS England, 2013).

Another factor influencing occupancy rates is delayed transfer of care, which leaves systems less resilient to operational pressures. Unnecessary delay in discharging patients who no longer need to be in hospital led to 1.15 million bed days being lost in acute hospitals during 2015 (National Audit Office, 2016).

Combatting pressures

To help combat winter pressures, the NHS conducts strategic planning each year. For the 2017/18 winter, formal planning began at its earliest time yet in July (Philip, 2017). Local plans were submitted in September covering resilience arrangements from the start of December up to Easter 2018.

As part of this preparation, Public Health England (2017) publishes a Cold Weather Plan every year to help protect the population against harm from cold weather. A mixture of past experience and forward-planning will help build future resilience. Below are some of the key methods of combatting pressure.

Best use of ambulance services
An expansion of the ‘hear and treat’ and ‘see and treat’ services provided by ambulance services can help alleviate demand on A&E departments. ‘Hear and treat’ services refer to 999 calls that are successfully completed without dispatching an ambulance vehicle response. Examples of this include over-the-phone advice, instructions for self-care, or referral to other urgent services (Urgent and Emergency Care Review Programme Team, 2015).

‘See and treat’ services refer to a model of care where a patient is clinically assessed at scene, before being provided with immediate treatment and subsequent discharge and/or referral (Urgent and Emergency Care Review Programme Team, 2015). By avoiding taking patients unnecessarily to A&E, they can be referred to more appropriate services that better fit the patient’s needs, or further support can be provided at home or in a community setting. ‘Hear and treat’ and ‘see and treat’ services now cover 3.5 million people (NHS England, 2017b).

This winter will see the full rollout of phase two of the Ambulance Response Programme, with the introduction of new call standards that accurately reflect the type and urgency of care needed by patients (Quaile, 2017). Along with the new dispatch on disposition system, giving call handlers more time to triage 999 calls, it is hoped that many patients can avoid being taken unnecessarily to A&Es.

Boosting flu vaccinations
Flu outbreaks within health services can be crippling and are a genuine concern each winter. Last year, 49% of NHS staff were vaccinated against the influenza virus and, this year, the number of vaccinated staff has been raised to 63% (NHS England, 2017b).

Additionally, free flu jabs will be provided to hundreds of thousands of care-home staff at a cost of up to £10 million; and numbers of vaccinations for young children and vulnerable people will be increased (NHS England, 2017a). Being vaccinated is the best way to prevent the spread of flu infection and reduce avoidable deaths. As it is possible to have flu without showing any symptoms, health professionals could find themselves working with flu but not realising it. It is essential they are vaccinated to avoid spreading the illness to vulnerable people.

Increasing funding
The spring budget announced an additional £100 million to support improvements in emergency departments through the implementation of a primary-care streaming model (Philip, 2017). Here, patients are streamed away from highly pressured emergency departments, to co-located GP-led primary care services, for conditions more suited to assessment and treatment in primary care (NHS Improvement, 2017).

Achieving ‘good’ patient flow
According to Monitor (2015), improving patient flow through hospital departments other than A&E is ‘the most important systemic means’ of avoiding sharp declines in A&E performance during winter. Health systems that have better patient flow are much better at coping with external pressures than those who don’t (NHS Improvement, 2017). Within ambulance services, good patient flow is seen as the handing over of a patient to an emergency department within 15 minutes of arriving (NHS Improvement, 2017).

My Post (2)Encouraging self-care
Further promotion of self-care is essential to reducing demand on health services. Giving people the confidence and information to look after themselves can help prevent ill health and reduce pressure (British Medical Association, 2016). However, for this to work, support needs to be easily accessible.

Improving housing conditions
Housing conditions for vulnerable people play an important part in the number of excess winter deaths and illnesses. In the coldest 10% of homes, the death rate rises approximately 2.8% for every degree Celsius drop in the outside temperature (NICE, 2015).

In England, there is a relatively sharp increase in the risk of death when outdoor temperatures fall to around 6°C (NICE, 2015). Improving heating and insulation for vulnerable people is therefore highly important for reducing avoidable illness or death.

Addressing growing GP demand
General practice is on the brink of crisis as a result of inadequate resourcing, an insufficient workforce, and an unsustainable workload (British Medical Association, 2016). The number of GP consultations in England rose from 303 million in 2008/9 to 361 million in 2013/14 (Royal College of General Practitioners, 2015). However, despite this 19% increase in demand, there has been no change in resourcing and staffing, putting undue strain on GP services (British Medical Association, 2016).

Increased funding in social care
Social care has been struck by considerable funding cuts in recent years, creating a knock-on effect on the number of people receiving services.

There were 500 000 fewer people who accessed social care in 2013/14 compared to 2008/9 (Franklin, 2015). This is despite an increasing ageing population, where the number of over-85s will double over the next two decades. It is also anticipated that adults with a learning disability will increase by at least a third (Local Government Association, 2016).

The cut of £5 billion in local authority social care budgets over the last 5 years has placed significant pressure on services (Local Government Association, 2016). Delays in arranging community nursing or social care has a considerable impact on delayed transfers, with 60% of trusts believing the increase in delayed transfers of care is owing to reductions in social care capacity (Monitor, 2015).

Conclusion
This article has sought to explain the reasons behind additional pressures on health services brought on by the winter season. While attendances at A&E are lower during the winter, the number of hospital admissions of vulnerable patient groups rises, largely because of seasonal illnesses such as flu and norovirus. This causes a reduction in the number of beds available and reduced patient flow within hospitals.

To combat these pressures, longer term investments are needed to address the insufficient workforce, lack of social care, and demand on primary care services. Although there has been additional investment in vaccination against flu; primary-care streaming; and resilience funding for ambulance services for this winter; it is unclear what impact—if any—this will have on health services.

References

British Medical Association. Beating the effects of winter pressures: Briefing paper. 2016; London: BMA

Campbell D, Morris S, Marsh S. NHS faces ‘humanitarian crisis’ as demand rises, British Red Cross warns [Internet]. London: The Guardian; 2017. [cited 2017 Oct 23]. Available from http://tinyurl.com/y73vemzg

Department of Health, NHS England, NHS Improvement. Written evidence submitted by the Department of Health, NHS England and NHS Improvement (WIP0035) [Internet]. 2017. [cited 2017 Oct 23]. Available from http:// tinyurl.com/y7vlmu5r

Fisher E, Dorning H. Winter pressures: what’s going on behind the scenes? London: Quality Watch; 2016

Franklin B. The end of formal adult social care: A provocation by the ILC-UK. 2015; London: ILC-UK

House of Commons Health Committee. Winter pressure in accident and emergency departments: Third Report of Session 2016–17. 2016; London: The Stationery Office

Local Government Association. Adult social care funding: 2016 state of the nation report. 2016; London: LGC

Monitor. A&E delays: why did patients wait longer last winter? [Internet]. 2015. [cited 2017 Oct 23]. Available from http://tinyurl.com/ ofw2uv3

National Audit Office. Discharging older patients from hospital [Internet]. 2016. [cited 2017 Oct 23]. Available from http://tinyurl.com/hnyuy2p

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Excess winter deaths and illness and the health risks associated with cold homes. Clinical Guideline 6. 2015; London: NICE

NHS England. NHS leaders unveil action to boost flu vaccination and manage winter pressures. [Internet]. 2017a. [cited 2017 Oct 21]. Available from http://tinyurl.com/ycp5k8er

NHS England. The Handbook to the NHS Constitution. 2015; London: The Stationery Office

NHS England. Understanding Winter Pressures in A&E Departments [Internet]. 2013. [cited 2017 Oct 21]. Available from http://tinyurl.com/ yblaeduc

NHS England. Urgent and emergency care [Internet]. 2017b. [cited 2017 Oct 21]. Available from http://tinyurl.com/y9dctbsp

NHS Improvement. National priorities for acute hospitals 2017. Good practice guide: Focus on improving patient flow [Internet]. 2017. [cited 2017 Oct 23]. Available from http://tinyurl. com/y7t6mfam

Philip P. Letter to all CCGs and providers regarding planning for winter 2017/18, and other operational priorities [Internet]. 2017. [cited 2017 Oct 22]. Available from http:// tinyurl.com/y82kelxe

Public Health England. The Cold Weather Plan for England: Protecting health and reducing harm from cold weather. 2017; London: The Stationery Office

Quaile A. What’s next for England’s ambulance services? J Paramed Pract. 2017;9(10): 443-444

Royal College of Emergency Medicine. Why does winter in A&E get worse every year? 2016a; London: The Royal College of Emergency Medicine

Royal College of Emergency Medicine. Written evidence submitted on behalf of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (WIP009) [Internet]. 2016b. [cited 2017 Oct 23].Available from http://tinyurl.com/y8naucxs

Royal College of General Practitioners. Patient safety implications of general practice workload. 2015; London: RCGP

Urgent and Emergency Care Review Programme Team. Transforming urgent and emergency care services in England: Clinical models for ambulance services. 2015; Leeds: NHS England

Taken from Journal of Paramedic Practice, published November 2017.

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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.

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.

References

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

Taken from Journal of Health Visiting, published November 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.’

References

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

Taken from British Journal of Midwifery, published November 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.

‘Jury is still out’ on success of GP Forward View admits NHS England

Adobe Spark (3)The Director of Primary Care for NHS England, has admitted ‘the jury is still out’ on whether the GP Forward View is working. Speaking at the Health and Care Innovations Expo in Manchester, Dr Arvind Madan outlined progress on the 5-year strategy that aims to stabilise general practice and transform it for the future.

The plan, launched in April 2016, has pledged to increase funding in general practice by £2.4 billion per year and introduce 5,000 extra GPs by 2021. Additionally it seeks to reduce pressure on GPs through a new practice resilience programme.

‘We are in our teenage years and this is where we find out what the character of the programme can ultimately be,’ said Madan. He highlighted early indications suggesting a 5% increase in the number of GPs in training since last year and that they were half way through the 5000 target of other professionals working in primary care.

Madan also highlighted the role of nurses in delivering the GP Forward View: ‘Nursing teams are a vital component of the general practice workforce,’ he said. ‘They provide care and treatment across the life course and increasingly work in partnership with GPs to manage overall demand in practices and treat patients with complex conditions.’

Speaking to Independent Nurse, Dr Crystal Oldman, Chief Executive of the Queen’s Nursing Institute, said there has been some progress following the implementation of the GP Forward Practice View, particularly the introduction of the 10-point action plan to develop the role of general practice nurses.

However, she felt less positive about increases in the numbers of nurses, which she said are ‘not even close’ to what is needed. Additionally, she said she is ‘confident’ there has been no change in the reduction of workload pressures for nurses. According to Oldman, the gap is in the engagement with the nurses themselves:

‘Because they work for individual businesses they are not engaged with the wider movement of general practice nursing,’ she said.

‘I think there is increased hope, and this may mean nurses will stick around in general practices in the hope that this plan is going to make a difference to workforce pressures general practice.’

The importance of nurses to meeting the demands faced by general practice was also emphasised at the same event by Professor Jane Cummings, Chief Nursing Officer for England, who described practice nurses as ‘central to our plan to ensure the NHS is fit for the future’.

Taken from Independent Nurse, published 15 September 2017.

Do advanced paramedics have a role as independent prescribers?

adobe-spark-3The journey regarding the proposal to introduce independent prescribing by advanced paramedic practitioners has been one focused on patient safety and a strong case for need. The challenge for the profession has been to ensure it’s positioned to respond to any concerns, and that any changes to the law allowing prescribing are made on the basis that patients will benefit.

Ministerial approval to take the proposal forward to the public consultation phase was granted by NHS England on 15 August 2014. The NHS England Allied Health Professions Medicines Project Team, in partnership with the College of Paramedics, developed a case of need for the proposal based on improving quality of care for patients. These improvements related to safety, clinical outcomes and experience, as well as the efficiency of service delivery, and value for money. Approval of the case of need was received from NHS England’s medical and nursing senior management teams in May 2014, and from the Department of Health non-medical prescribing board in July 2014.

Alongside the paramedic proposal, NHS England consulted on proposals to allow three other allied health professions to be able to prescribe or supply and administer medicines, as appropriate for their patients. These proposals were for independent prescribing by radiographers; supplementary prescribing by dietitians; and the use of exemptions within the Human Medicines Regulations 2012 by orthoptists.

At the time, Suzanne Rastrick, Chief Allied Health Professions Officer at NHS England, said:

‘Our proposals will allow patients to get the medicines they need without delay, instead of having to make separate appointments to see their doctor or GP.

‘Breaking down barriers in how care is provided between different parts of the NHS is key to the vision set out in the NHS Five Year Forward View.

‘Extension of prescribing and supply mechanisms for these four professions creates a more flexible workforce, able to innovate to provide services that are more responsive to the needs of patients, and reduce demand in other parts of the healthcare system.’

The public consultation opened on 26 February 2015 and ran for 12 weeks. As well as consulting on proposals for advanced paramedics to become independent prescribers of medicines across the UK, it also proposed that consideration be given to paramedic independent prescribers being allowed to mix licensed medicines prior to administration, and prescribe independently from a restricted list of controlled drugs. Anyone was welcome to respond, and feedback was received from members of the public, patients/patient representative groups, carers, voluntary organisations, health-care providers, commissioners, doctors, pharmacists, allied health professionals, nurses, regulators, non-medical prescribers and the Royal Colleges, as well as other representative bodies.

Why independent prescribing was not recommended

Following the close of the consultation, responses received were collated and analysed. The responses were considered by both the Commission on Human Medicines (CHM) and Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), who felt unable to recommend independent prescribing for advanced paramedics at present.

The reasons for this decision were concerns over the wide range of conditions encountered by advanced paramedics and whether they could demonstrate evidence of adequate training and competency to diagnose the conditions that will be prescribed for. Additionally, there were notable concerns over the definition of an advanced paramedic practitioner, as this appears to vary between allied health professionals.

As a result, The CHM felt that independent prescribing might represent a risk to patient safety; for example, and in context with the lack of available evidence of competency at the time, if the wrong diagnosis was made and an inappropriate treatment was prescribed. They also felt that some of the examples cited to demonstrate a need for independent prescribing were not sufficiently robust.

Considering the possibility of independent prescribing

The College of Paramedics expressed disappointment that the CHM was unable to recommend independent prescribing for advanced paramedics at the present time, and has said it will continue its support and commitment to work with the project, and with NHS England this year to address the very legitimate comments made by the CHM. The college also said it would give regular updates to its members on the progress of the work.

Speaking on the possible future for independent prescribing by advanced paramedics, Andy Collen, medicines and prescribing project lead for the College of Paramedics, said:

‘We absolutely think that advanced paramedics have got a role as independent prescribers. The journey for any profession to undertake independent prescribing has to be done so with absolute rigour and consideration for patient safety. We need to provide reassurance that what is being proposed is going to benefit patients completely and that any risks are understood. Although it is disappointing, we absolutely welcome the feedback from CHM and we are continuing to work to answer the concerns the CHM have, and that is being supported by NHS England.’

Gerry Egan, chief executive officer of the College of Paramedics, said:

‘The College has a clear definition of the advanced paramedic role in terms of competencies and education and is working to make this the accepted definition both across the NHS and in the private health sector.

‘The College have no doubts advanced paramedics will deliver a massive benefit to patients in terms of delivering the right care at the right place and at the right time by the use of safe independent prescribing as part of integrated care systems.

‘The College remains totally committed to the proposal to introduce independent prescribing by advanced paramedics and looks forward to continuing supporting NHS England.’

Taken from Nurse Prescribing, published 9 September 2016.