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Pennine Lancashire CCGs recognised for their work to develop COVID virtual ward

NHS Blackburn with Darwen and East Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) have been officially recognised for their work in supporting the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the annual assessment of CCGs by NHS England.

NHS England is legally required to review CCGs’ performance on an annual basis. As a result of the continued impact of Covid-19 and the need for the NHS to set new and updated priorities across the different phases of the response, NHS England adopted a simplified approach to its 2020/21 CCG annual performance review taking account of the different circumstances and challenges CCGs have faced in managing recovery across the phases of the NHS response to Covid-19. Previously the CCGs have achieved positive ratings of “good” overall and outstanding in some areas.  This year, the CCGs, with local GPs, East Lancashire Medical Services (ELMS), Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale CVS, East Lancashire Hospital NHS Trust and Lancashire, South Cumbria Care Foundation NHS Trust worked together at breakneck speed to deliver a COVID Virtual ward service to respond to the big numbers of people seriously affected by COVID-19.  In doing so, the CCGs were one of the first in the region to create this unique service which has helped over 2000 people in Pennine Lancashire from becoming seriously ill or hospitalised with severe COVID-19 or worse.

The COVID virtual ward was set up as an “at-home” monitoring service which was set up quickly and in response to the increasing numbers of people ill with covid-19 and who were identified as being clinically vulnerable to developing low blood oxygen levels due to age, a pre-existing condition or other significant risk factors.  Patients are supported in the comfort of their own homes, and near loved ones and carers. It is called the virtual ward because health care professionals keep in daily contact either by phone, video consultation or if required a home visit and keep an eye on the symptoms that patients have.  As well as helping patients to monitor their own symptoms with pulse oximeters that are provided to each patient for free, the physical and psychological needs of patients are supported through regular contact. Each patient’s own GP is involved which helps ensure continuity of care and follow up once the patient has been discharged from the COVID virtual ward. If patients require further treatment, they can be rapidly admitted to hospital if needed. The system of close monitoring has helped avoid this for many patients.

Dr Mark Dziobon, Medical Director for the two CCGs said: “The most astonishing thing about the creation of the virtual covid ward was how a wide number of organisations, professionals and individuals came together quickly to respond to what we saw as a significant local health emergency. Doing nothing was not an option, and this galvanised local doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, and other professionals including the voluntary sector to create a service that has truly responded to and cared for the rising numbers of very ill and poorly people with COVID-19.  If we can build services at scale, and speed that effectively respond to the health needs of patients quickly and effectively I think that this has given us a model for services in the future”

Dr Julie Higgins, Chief Officer for the two CCGs said: 

“These have been really exceptional times and I am grateful for the recognition that NHS England has given to the leadership team and the entire CCG workforce, who have worked extremely hard, at pace, and under challenging conditions. People have shown a high degree of flexibility and resilience over the past year and it was gratifying to be recognised for the efforts we have made through and it is a great reflection on the work of our staff, and clinicians, including member GP practices.  I also would like to thank patients, carers and our voluntary sector colleagues and partners who help us ensure that the patient is at the heart of everything we do”.