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Dr Simon Woodworth of the Stockport Together vanguard writes about listening and responding to the concerns of GPs in his area and adding a service to connect them with consultant colleagues to allow real time access to advice and reduce the level of GP to hospital referrals.
Stockport Together vanguard is a partnership between Stockport’s health and care organisations, which joins up services so that they work seamlessly together.
It is one of 14 multi-specialty community providers (MCP) vanguards on the new care models programme, which are developing new ways to deliver more sustainable and improved quality personalised care.
As part of this work, NHS England recently published details of the MCP emerging care model and contract framework, which sets out what good looks like. The publication is full of great examples of where the programme is already helping to reduce the impact of rising demand on GPs and practices and Stockport Together is one such case.
Following feedback from GP colleagues, we introduced a service in Stockport which has greatly improved access across the borough to same-day, real-time specialist advice and guidance from hospital consultants.
Consultant Connect, a dedicated telephony system, was introduced in February. Since then my GP colleagues and I can get instant treatment advice during patient appointments from a specialist at our local hospital to check whether a referral is necessary.
While reaching hospital consultants by phone has traditionally been a challenge for GPs in Stockport, 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.
In February alone, the system has prevented hospital referrals in 70 per cent of recorded cases since for haematology (the diagnosis and treatment of blood disorders) and endocrinology (the treatment of hormone imbalances). It has since been extended to include paediatrics and cardiology, and there are plans to add further specialties in coming months.
One of the patients who has benefited from this service is Jean Hamilton, 77, from Romiley in Stockport. 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.
Usually a patient like Mrs Hamilton, would have been have referred to the hospital, 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, Dr Richard Bell.
Between the two of us, we agreed that Mrs Hamilton’s medication would be adjusted and blood tests would be carried out, with a plan for me to call Dr Bell again if needed after getting the test results.
In this case, and others, the greatest value of Consultant Connect has been the speed of which I’m able to give patients more tailored advice and start addressing their symptoms.
If I had referred Mrs Hamilton, she would have needed to attend the hospital for an appointment, with the inconvenience of travelling 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.
Dr Richard Bell, endocrinology consultant, agrees: “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 focused 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.”