Consultant Connect – aiming big and improving communication in Mental Health

Published: 28th September 2021
Ray McGrath reflects on over a year of using Consultant Connect at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM). SLaM is the first UK mental health trust to use a streamlining system to better treat patient’s physical illnesses.

This guest article was produced by Simone Davies, King’s Health Partners. 

Ray McGrath

Ray McGrath

 

Ray McGrath, lead nurse for King’s Health Partners Integrating our Mental and Physical HealthcareSystems (IMPHS), shares his reflections on improving communications between clinicians across King’s Health Partners to provide physical health advice for patients with severe mental illnesses.

 

 

People diagnosed with a serious mental illness have worse physical health than the general population, resulting in a reduced life expectancy of between 15 and 20 years. It has been nearly two years since the IMPHS, part of the Mind & Body programme at King’s Health Partners, launched at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. The three-year project, funded by Maudsley Charity, has the primary aim of improving the physical healthcare of people with serious mental illness through a number of interventions, such as research, service development, and education and training.

In 2019 my colleagues and I spoke to around 200 staff at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust to find out their views on improving physical health services. By visiting wards and attending team meetings, we found that one of the main concerns for colleagues in mental health inpatients services was they spend too much time trying to get into contact with colleagues in our acute partner organisations on physical health advice. Staff felt that if they were better connected with acute trusts their questions could be solved in a matter of minutes.

This is where Consultant Connect came in. Consultant Connect provides software services to enable better communication between clinicians across the NHS. At South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, Consultant Connect connects mental health clinicians with colleagues at acute trusts to answer questions about patients’ physical health needs for advice and guidance on managing physical health conditions in mental health wards. This is the first time Consultant Connect would be used in this way at any mental health trust in the UK.

Since launching in 2020, clinicians at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust have sought advice and guidance more than 650 times from more than 80 specialisms from colleagues at Guy’s and St Thomas’s and King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trusts and Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust.

In this blog, I share four things I have learnt since establishing Consultant Connect at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.

  1. Do not be afraid to aim big!

COVID-19 accelerated the programme. Originally, we had picked one ward at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust as a pilot site for Consultant Connect, but while finalising preparation for the services to go live, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. At that point, the potential for Consultant Connect was really evident. The project picked up quite a pace, not least because the service provides timely access to advice and guidance for people with mental illness who already experienced increased physical health risks, but also because as a result of the pandemic, there was an even greater challenge in avoiding transferring patients to acute hospitals unnecessarily due to risks associated with COVID-19 transmissions. We mobilised to roll out Consultant Connect across all our inpatient services at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, which is more than 40 wards. The benefit of aiming big and rolling out across all the wards is it demonstrated the real impact of the programme.

  1. Being a part of King’s Health Partners helped us launch the programme

Our placement within King’s Health Partners was certainly incredibly helpful strategically. Connecting with our Managing Director and Chief Executives at our partner organisations gave us the opportunity to communicate why Consultant Connect would be valuable for patients. They were all incredibly interested, and they gave it the green light. It was a familiar service to our senior leadership team as Guy’s and St Thomas’ and King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trusts had been using it previously with GPs. There was also no additional cost with the intervention we were suggesting, all the costs were already covered by NHS South East London Clinical Commissioning Group.

  1. Make the most of your communications channels

Since launch, we have tried to ensure all our communications about Consultant Connect across South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust are aligned. It has been vital for us to use all the communications channels at our disposal, from internal Trust newsletters, networks, and even the junior doctors’ messaging group.

  1. The results for patients are clear

Rapid communication between mental health and secondary physical health clinicians has so far demonstrably improved physical health outcomes of patients with serious mental illnesses:

  • By the end of August 2021, 1,009 calls were placed on Consultant Connect by clinicians.
  • In two-thirds (69%) of cases, the conversation with a specialist meant South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust clinicians could treat their patient’s physical health condition without the need for a hospital referral or admission.
  • We know that the referrals recommended are well informed and necessary.
  • 52 different specialisms so far have been contacted via Consultant Connect.
  • Approximately 325South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust staff are signed up.
  • Nearly 50% of our calls go to either diabetes, endocrinology or cardiology specialists.

You can watch Ray talk about the project during our webinar Consultant Connect in Mental Health Webinar, click here. 

 

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