Millions of patients to benefit from care at home thanks to NHS community response teams 

Millions more people will benefit from quicker care at home thanks to the boosted rollout of healthcare teams in the community, as part of the NHS plan to recover urgent and emergency care services.

Almost a quarter of a million people (226,895) have received urgent medical support from home – many avoiding a hospital stay – since the teams were rolled out nationally in April – two years ahead of the NHS Long Term Plan target.

Thanks to the major new plan to help recover services and reduce waiting times for patients, these community services will be scaled up even further – including taking more referrals from ambulance services, 12 hours a day, seven days a week across England.

Around one fifth of emergency admissions can be avoided with the right care in place.

Community response teams will be called to less clinically urgent 999 calls within two hours and treat patients who have had falls, need urgent diabetes support, or are suffering from confusion.

The NHS is already exceeding the standard for these services with 70% of patients with urgent needs being seen within two hours since their launch.

Keeping people out of hospital and in their own homes, where they prefer to be, will play a key role in helping ease pressure on NHS services and is a key part of the urgent and emergency care recovery plan.

The two-year delivery blueprint aims to improve patient experience, as the health service continues to face record demand for services.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: “The NHS has been under significant pressure, particularly during winter months – dealing with the ‘twindemic’ of flu and Covid, huge numbers of people need an ambulance and our A&E services – so we have been working hard to put longer term plans in place to deal with the record demand we are experiencing right across the country.

“A key part of delivering these plans is keeping people out of hospital when they don’t need to be there and so over the coming months and years, these rapid response teams will provide convenient care at home for millions of people, without needing to be admitted to hospital.

“Helping to keep them out of hospital and enabling them to live independently for longer – we know patients prefer this, and that it helps with their recovery to be treated in the comfort of their home.

“Thanks to the accelerated rollout and the hard work of our NHS staff working together, these teams are now in every part of the country – so as ever, please come forward for the care you need if you have health concerns.”

The latest data shows the number of people treated by urgent community response (UCR) teams each month has doubled since the national roll-out in April, from 17,500 to 35,000 in December.

In the East of England, they have been working with the ambulance service to increase referrals to the service, with suitable patients transferred to UCR by clinical staff working in the control room.

The details can be reviewed by the UCR providers, and if they are unable to review the patient or attend the call, the patient is returned to the ambulance call stack without losing their original place, so there is no disadvantage to the patient.

In Warrington, they have been working with the pendant alarm service TEC Services Association on a system that enables call handlers to select the UCR service as an alternative to calling 999, and have  also joined up with the local falls response service, which means they can send a UCR clinician with the falls team to patients who may need additional assessment, and are also able to refer patients to other services, such as falls prevention and community nursing services.

The Warrington UCR service sees about 20 patients each day, with the majority (80%) remaining in their own homes. Pendant alarm calls account for a quarter of calls to the service.

While UCR teams have been in place across the whole country since April last year, some areas started rolling them out earlier, including a partnership between local health and care services in Harrow.

To support care homes and provide better care for residents during the pandemic, a dedicated team was set up by Central London Community Healthcare NHS Trust and the borough-based partnership in Harrow, providing guidance, advice, and training to care home staff.

Harrow’s urgent community response service included a rapid response team who provided care home patients with urgent healthcare within two hours, working with care home staff to ensure patients got the best care possible without unnecessarily needing to attend A&E. Working collaboratively like this has helped reduce ambulance call-outs and admissions, and has been so successful the service is looking to expand to other services such as falls prevention, where they can tailor training to support care home staff to reduce falls – and reduce call-outs – which will ultimately improve patient care and experience.

James Sanderson, NHS England director for community health services, said: “Urgent community response teams are an invaluable resource for the NHS – they are key in helping patients to receive the care they need, in the right place and at the right time.

“Thanks to the huge efforts of staff from different sectors working together across the country, more people than ever are getting the care they need and avoiding the need to go to hospital at all.

“This is both better for people who want to stay well in their own homes as well as the NHS, as we continue to tackle the pressures of Covid and recover our elective and urgent and emergency care services.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “Around one fifth of emergency admissions can be avoided with the right care in place. Treating more people from the comfort of their own homes is a crucial part of our plan to improve care for patients, cut waiting times and reduce pressure on NHS services.

“Almost a quarter of a million people have been treated at home since April. We’re expanding community healthcare teams even further to provide people with the support they need to recover quickly and continue to live independent lives as we tackle the Covid backlog and recover urgent and emergency care.”

Rachel Power, Chief Executive of the Patients Association, said: “Increasing the NHS’s ability to care for people in their homes and avoid a trip to hospital is good for patients and their families, and good for the NHS.

“We support investment in urgent community response teams across England and look forward to hearing feedback from patients who have benefitted from these services, to understand their perspectives of being treated in this way.”