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Care home residents across East Lancashire to benefit from £500k boost to enhance health

Thousands of care home residents across East Lancashire are to benefit from a package of measures designed to improve and enhance their health and wellbeing thanks to an anticipated £500,000 NHS funding boost.

The money will help care homes in the area and build on the initial success of a project that has already broken new ground through the use of expert clinical consultations for a range of conditions, such as chest infections, over a secure and high-quality video link. Known as telemedicine, the innovation mirrors the technology used by NASA to ensure the health and wellbeing of its astronauts, such as Tim Peake, as they orbit Earth. Closer to home, it has helped to improve the health of older people by enabling them to stay in the comfort of their own residence wherever possible - while making best use of GP and emergency facilities. The initiative has already witnessed a reduction in the number of unnecessary hospital attendances, GP visits and ambulance journeys.

Now, with the proposed £½ million from NHS England, care homes will receive an enhanced support package to boost the health and wellbeing of their residents. Following the launch of a Framework for Enhanced Health in Care Homes, East Lancashire care homes will receive a package of support led by NHS East Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) in collaboration with Airedale NHS Foundation Trust and other partners, geared to improving care home resident health.

While the package will continue to provide care homes in East Lancashire with the ‘high tech’ telemedicine support, it will also provide care home residents with access to a consistent, named GP and more integrated access to the wider primary care services that are available. In addition, it will support residents and care homes with medicines reviews, hydration and nutrition support as well as out of hours and urgent care where needed. The funding will also increase the connectivity between the homes and multi-disciplinary health and care teams to enable residents to benefit from access to, and support from, a wider range of health and care specialists such as speech and language therapists, physiotherapists, dieticians and hospital consultants. To help enhance the independence of residents and enable them to avoid unnecessary hospital admissions, the package will mean that all care home residents will receive assessments, and where necessary, receive rehabilitation support to boost their physical and mental health.

Jackie Hanson, Chief Nurse and Deputy Chief Officer at NHS East Lancashire CCG, said:

"Care homes are a fundamental part of our health and care system. Care home residents are those who have contributed much to our local economies and lives and we are so much richer for that. NHS East Lancashire CCG recognises the important role that care homes play and the value of our care home residents. When an individual becomes a care home resident it is a significant change for them, and their wider families. There is always a risk of losing independence and poor health as a result of this change and we are working with care homes in the area to do everything we can to support their residents.

This funding will enable us to continue to build more widely on our success of working in partnership with Airedale Hospital, whose telemedicine service has really boosted the care and treatment of care home residents.

GPs and our urgent care services such as A&E are under significant pressure with increasing demand. The use of the telemedicine technology helps to take pressure of GPs and A&E through down the line care and management.

When I think about the use of technology, I think about a care home resident like Joan, a resident in our area who has Parkinson’s disease. She can receive face to face clinical advice and support at any time of the day or night without the discomfort or inconvenience of a visit to hospital, which is always an upheaval for those who are frail and elderly. After a recent fall, Joan's care home was able to speak to an experienced nurse at the Airedale Telehealth hub using a video link and after a consultation via the video link with an A&E consultant, the care home was able to arrange for her to be cared for in the familiar surroundings of the care home, rather than transferring her to A&E.”

Approaching 100 nursing and residential homes in East Lancashire are now linked directly to specialist nurses in the digital care hub at Airedale NHS Foundation Trust in Steeton, near Keighley.

Retaining eye-to-eye contact with the patients and their carers throughout the remote consultation, the 20-strong hospital team provide round-the-clock diagnosis and expert opinion as and when it is needed 24/7. The team includes former paramedics as well as specialists in dementia.

The initiative was hand-picked to be among the inaugural group of NHS England’s ‘vanguards’, tasked with exploring potential new models of care for the future.

This Airedale and Partners scheme has already attracted more than £2m of national investment over the past two years to test out its full potential in nursing and residential homes across Lancashire and Yorkshire.

The scheme has already attracted widespread interest, ranging from 10 Downing Street to the governments in both India and China who are keen to replicate this home-grown telemedicine success story in their own health systems.

The East Lancashire-Yorkshire telemedicine service was also hailed by the Care Quality Commission as an area of “outstanding practice” when it inspected the £250,000 purpose-designed hub last year, praising the “immediate access to expert opinion” provided.

Latest analysis has shown that in the most recent six-month period, nurses in the hospital hub handled approaching 5,000 calls for telemedicine support to residents, covering a wide range of conditions.

The most common reasons for calling included falls, urine infections, suspected chest infections, pain management, breathing difficulties, skin complaints, wound care and medication issues.

GPs in East Lancashire have confirmed that the majority of calls received by the hub mirror their traditional case mix – with one describing telemedicine as the biggest reduction in workload in 15 years as a doctor.

Initial evaluation of the telemedicine service is already starting to highlight how telemedicine is making a difference.

Had the telemedicine service not been there to offer support, two thirds of care home staff have reported that they would have called the patient's GP in or out-of-hours, and 1-in-12 would have called an ambulance.

Ultimately, the advice provided has eliminated 40% of these calls to GPs and 29% of these calls to the ambulance service.