Back in April 2020, Consultant Connect services were launched in partnership with NHS North Central London Integrated Care Board (NCL ICB) as a one-year pilot project to assist with the pressures of Covid-19.
As Covid restrictions were brought in, there was reduced access to outpatient appointments, and the importance of Primary Care clinicians obtaining quick Advice & Guidance became more apparent. What started with access to 15 Telephone Advice & Guidance (A&G) specialties provided by out-of-area consultants on the National Consultant Network (NCN) for Barnet and Enfield was soon reviewed and extended for another year to include Camden, Haringey and Islington. This provided access to over 25 Telephone A&G specialties and more than nine specialties for Photo Messaging A&G. Since then, more than 18,000 A&G calls have been made across NCL ICB. Because of the pilot’s success, we are incredibly excited to announce that the project has been awarded a 5-year contract. This new contract will allow more clinicians in different sectors to work together to discuss patient cases and the best pathways, as well as the provision for more local specialties to be added.
Collectively, across NCL ICB, over 1,400 Primary Care clinicians have downloaded the free Consultant Connect App, meaning that over a million patients are covered for Advice & Guidance. Primary Care clinicians have had positive experiences, and comments include “the service gives a very quick response and is helpful for same-day management, with the ability to give the patient answers promptly”, which is reflected in the average call time connection rate of 36 seconds.
We spoke to a GP who praised the service as a “rapid and efficient way of dealing with patient queries without the need for a referral”. They recalled a patient who could remain in the community after sending images of his swollen and painful foot, which the GP forwarded to a consultant using Consultant Connect. Together, the GP and the consultant structured a management plan with steps to avoid an admission, which the patient was very pleased with.
The service is equally beneficial for Secondary Care clinicians, who reported that Consultant Connect is an “excellent platform to discuss cases with Primary Care colleagues, creating a good working relationship between Primary and Secondary Care clinicians, all whilst reducing referrals”. Multiple local provider sites across the board have signed up to answer queries from local Primary Care clinicians. Local providers such as The Royal Free London and University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trusts are aiming to collaborate with more providers across NCL, implementing ICB-wide Same Day Emergency Care (SDEC) cover, with the ambition to include ambulance services.
The data*, as of this year, shows that, out of the 18,000 A&G calls placed to specialists across NCL, 61% of calls to Elective Care specialties in Enfield have resulted in unnecessary referrals avoided. Similarly, 60% of calls in Barnet to Elective Care specialties have also resulted in unnecessary referrals avoided, and in Camden, Haringey and Islington, the statistics are 58%, 67% and 55%, respectively. A specialist who provides local A&G commented that Consultant Connect “allows for rapid responses with advice tailored to the individual patient, resulting in better and faster management planning”. A GP who uses the service recollected when a patient suffering from cluster headaches visited them. The patient was already on the neurology waiting list but struggled with everyday life due to the pain. The GP spoke to a local neurologist to discuss pain management, and together, they set out a clear plan, including alternative analgesics to minimise the discomfort.
Keith Spratt, Head of Contracts at NCL ICB, comments:
“Consultant Connect was first introduced in NCL at the start of the pandemic and allowed Primary Care to get immediate advice and guidance to support the management of their patients. Since then, the service has continued to expand with other users, such as paramedics, coming on board. Simply put, the platform allows healthcare professionals to speak quickly with other healthcare professionals to put the patient’s interest first.”
Stephen Wells, Senior Programme Manager at NCL ICB, adds:
“The support from Consultant Connect is outstanding as they fully understand the day-to-day clinical interfaces between GPs, consultants, and other clinical staff, which embraces the NHS’s thinking in developing clinical networks across organisational boundaries as an Integrated Care System and developing integrated care. The Consultant Connect platform is so easy to use and the support from their team is highly professional, very responsive and is bespoke to the needs of the local system and is continually reviewed to ensure local clinicians are rostered to support the clinical needs of the local health and care system and making the best use of the technology. The use of the system provides information that informs clinical education locally at a specialty level and the development of case studies provides the Integrated Care System with shared learning and understanding of how local clinical networks can work together.”
Nick Smith, Account Manager for NCL at Consultant Connect, adds:
“What has really made this project stand out is the buy-in from across the ICB. GPs across the five boroughs have readily adopted the services on offer and there is a real willingness from the local trusts to provide Primary Care with the advice they need.”
*Data relates to calls where an outcome was recorded.
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