With an elective care waiting list of 5.6 million, radical action is needed to change the way healthcare is provided. Traditional assessment and treatment pathways need an overhaul with a view to modernising the system and moving the focus from acute care.
By providing alternative pathways of care, which avoid the acute sector and offer ongoing support and guidance to patients who face long waits for treatment or surgery, we can improve quality of life and in some cases even reduce the number of patients needing surgery. Sharing data among all health professionals involved in their care can creates a comprehensive picture of that patient, highlighting how best they can be supported with their condition.
Better support for patients waiting for treatment can help to improve outcomes
Patients who face long waits can suffer both emotionally and physically, particularly when it comes to rheumatic conditions. This in turn creates further pressures on the health system. In some underserved areas and communities this can also increase health inequalities.
Last year’s report by the NHS Confederation investigated how we can create better access to care and reduce health inequalities in the wake of the pandemic. Highlighted as part of the action plan is providing greater care and support to those who are waiting for treatment to begin.
Unless cancer is suspected patients are currently prioritised as part of a first come first served system, rather than being prioritised according to need or urgency. Once prioritised, most patients in lower clinical priority groups receive minimal support while they wait for treatment to begin.
The Waiting Well approach encourages maintaining a positive dialogue with patients with a range of health professionals involved in their care. It encourages health promotion and promotes positive lifestyle choices while patients wait for treatment as well as signposting them to support provided by voluntary groups, self-care or social prescribing. By supporting patients to better manage their illness or condition while they wait for treatment or surgery, this can improve their outcomes, especially in the light of increasing pressures and waiting lists.
The management of chronic pain or illness is just one area where a contemporary model of care works well. As well as being a member of the CHKS Advisory Board, Andrew Walton is group executive director at a company which is helping patients to manage their pain through education and better lifestyle choices rather than simply being reliant on surgery or medication.
By working in this way with patients who have chronic pain, we can not only improve their quality of life and help them to better manage their conditions, but also reduce pressures on primary care and the ED where they would traditionally turn to for help.
Sharing data can help to create new care pathways
Patients with chronic conditions need joined-up care and treatment, but to provide this, health systems need to work better together. Through ICSs and a greater ability to share data we can create a system where patients don’t have to just join a queue for surgery and wait for their turn to get better.
A large data lake can create a very clear picture of the health needs within communities. Expert analysis which can drill down into specific areas can show where the greatest needs for particular services lie. Sharing data between services in a joined-up way will help to turn that into actionable information to find those people who will benefit from support in the community, bringing insight and expertise to develop cost effective and safe care.
Such insights will enable the creation of new pathways of care that can help to develop services to fit patient need rather than patients needing to fit in with the services available.
ICSs can provide that link to help find those areas of less traditional care that can help to ease the burden on acute care and help improve quality of life, but it is vital that the wealth of data available is shared and is accessible. Healthcare must undergo radical change to remain sustainable and data is the currency on which this new economy will be built.
Written by Andrew Walton, Strategic Council Member at Independent Healthcare Partners Network