Consultant Connect

fabstuffThis week’s Bright Idea comes from NHS Academy of Fabulous Stuff, a portal which, like ours, shares examples of innovation in general practice and primary care.

The NHS Academy of Fabulous Stuff has begun a series of interviews with Vanguard sites – understanding what it’s like to be a Vanguard, getting under their skin to explore the challenges, the successes and the highlights .

They started this new series with Stockport Together and Dr Cath Briggs. Dr Briggs is a General Practitioner in Stockport’s Bracondale Medical Centre. She also holds the role of Clinical Director for Quality and Provider Management at the CCG, and has been actively involved in the Stockport Together transformation work from a clinical perspective, and has been working on the programme since it began.

You can read the interview here.

Dr Briggs quoted the following as an example of great case study since Stockport was named a Vanguard site by NHS England.

GPs can call ‘Consultant Connect’ during patient appointments to get instant treatment advice from a specialist at Stepping Hill Hospital and check whether a referral is necessary.

While reaching a busy hospital consultant by phone has traditionally been challenging for GPs, the new single number connects to a ‘rota’ of consultants and if the first is unavailable, the system loops to the mobile phone of the next specialist.

The system has prevented hospital referrals in 70 per cent of recorded cases since launching for haematology and endocrinology enquiries in February. It was last week extended to paediatrics and there are plans to add further specialties in coming months. Stockport is the first area in Greater Manchester to introduce the system.

One of the patients to benefit is Jean Hamilton, 77, from Romiley. Mrs Hamilton had been suffering for low blood pressure which had led to two visits to A&E, including following an incident where she collapsed and hit her head.

Mrs Hamilton’s GP, Dr Simon Woodworth, of Chadsfield Medical Centre, said: “Usually I would have referred the patient to Stepping Hill, which would have led to a letter and an appointment 3-4 weeks later. Instead, I called Consultant Connect and within 25 seconds I was through to consultant endocrinologist, Richard Bell.”

The doctors agreed for Dr Woodworth to adjust her medication and carry out blood tests, with a plan to call Mr Bell again if needed after getting the test results. Dr Woodworth said: “The greatest value was in the speed – the patient got tailored advice, very quickly, to start addressing her symptoms straightaway.

“If I had referred her, she would have needed to attend Stepping Hill, with the inconvenience of travelling to a further appointment and finding parking. Following this, the consultant may have written back suggesting the same measures. Instead, with Consultant Connect, it all happened during one appointment in primary care.”

Mrs Hamilton said: “I thought the system was excellent, a superb way for the GP to hear from a consultant without having to refer me to the hospital, with the wait that entails. My health had been getting worse for a while and at one point, I passed out and hit my head and had to be taken to A&E.

“My blood pressure was very low, I didn’t have any energy and felt dreadful. After the change to my medication, I feel so much better and everyone says I look a different person.”

Dr Richard Bell, the endocrinology consultant, said: “Consultant Connect makes it very easy to communicate with GPs and improve patient care while cutting out pointless backwards and forwards letters and inappropriate patient appointments.

“As a consultant, it is helpful in making sure we can stay focussed on using our time to see the most appropriate people. Many patients do not need a physical hospital appointment but their GP may need a consultant opinion about their care.”

Jean’s husband, Charles Hamilton, added: “Before changing her treatment, Jean had to keep lying down all the time and she collapsed twice. On one occasion, I thought she was dead and had to call 999 and get a neighbour to help me lift her off the floor, it was terrible.

“Since Dr Woodworth changed her blood pressure pills, Jean has been able to get out and about again. If we’d had to wait weeks for a hospital appointment, I think it might well have meant the blue lights again and Jean back in hospital.”

Consultant Connect has been introduced as part of Stockport Together, a partnership between Stockport’s health and care organisations to join up services so that they work seamlessly together.

Jonathan Patrick, director at Consultant Connect, said: “Helping patients to get the care they need when they need it is one of the biggest challenges facing the NHS today, and Stockport is taking a large step forwards by enabling GPs to get immediate advice from hospital consultants, often while the patient is still with the GP.”

In 2015, Stockport was chosen as one of 50 areas nationally to try out this new way of providing services and was named a ‘Vanguard’ site by NHS England. The Stockport Together partners are Stockport Clinical Commissioning Group, Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council, Stockport NHS Foundation Trust, Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust, and Viaduct Health.

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