The easiest bit of the NHS long term plan

Published: 9th January 2019
As a vision, the NHS long term plan is undoubtedly positive and ambitious - giving the public access to their GP via "digital consultations" understandably got a lot of coverage, but the plan's authors might have been right to feel miffed that a lot of other good ideas didn't attract much comment at all.
The easiest bit of the NHS long term plan - Consultant Connect

Monday saw the arrival of the NHS long term plan. As a vision, it’s undoubtedly positive and ambitious – giving the public access to their GP via “digital consultations” understandably got a lot of coverage, but the plan’s authors might have been right to feel miffed that a lot of other good ideas didn’t attract much comment at all.

Promoting healthy living to reduce obesity and smoking-related conditions, increasing cancer survival through earlier diagnosis and modern treatments, focusing on the “biggest killers and disablers” are all ideas health professionals can get behind. The use of technology to help achieve those aims is surely unarguable and the presence of a tech-friendly Health Secretary may mean the right investment where it’s needed.

But the real work starts now. As the plan fades from public consciousness NHSE is busy telling local commissioners and Trusts to adapt the plans for their local area and implement them. This is, of course, one of the strengths of the NHS – one size doesn’t fit all, so each area gets to tailor the plan for their demographic. Of course, it’s a huge amount of work to agree what your area will do, and then a huge amount of work to do it.

A very good reason, then, to look for the easiest bits of the plan, deliver them and give your area a flying start. And it looks like one of the easiest parts is Advice & Guidance.

Getting started on the long-term plan
One of the most eye-catching ambitions of the plan is to save 30 million outpatient trips to hospital:

“An outpatient appointment can provide: advice and diagnosis for a patient and their GP; follow-up review after a hospital procedure; and ongoing specialist input into a long-term condition. Technology means an outpatient appointment is often no longer the fastest or most accurate way of providing specialist advice on diagnosis or ongoing patient care.”

High impact quick-win: Advice & Guidance
Better support for GPs to avoid the need for a hospital referral is one of the key planks in the ambition. Advice & Guidance is the best way of achieving this, whether through the written eRS system or through Consultant Connect by phone. Our data shows that 66% of calls to elective specialties, such as cardiology, diabetes and gynaecology, result in the patient avoiding a trip to hospital. Our Phone Advice & Guidance service has been proven to connect clinicians in just 35 seconds (UK average).

Support staff answering calls & offer new specialties
We know that staffing Advice & Guidance can be a challenge. However, for many specialties those staff don’t have to be based at your hospital. This means specialists from other areas who have availability could take advice calls and written requests from your GPs.

This is why we have created a National Network of NHS specialists to support your GPs both in Elective Care and Mental Health. Our National Network options help to solve any staffing issues. The network consists of NHS specialists who are able to answer calls for advice. For example, they may work part time and be willing to take calls on their days off.

In Elective Care, these specialists are able to support your local staff by:

  • Acting as a backstop when your clinicians aren’t able to respond to requests; and by
  • Providing specialties that are not available locally, e.g. neurology

For more information about our National Network for Elective Care click here. 

In Mental Health, we offer two national telephone-based advice and guidance services to support GPs with prescribing in primary care: one is for children and young people with mental health problems, and one is for working age adults with mental health problems.

For more information about our National Network for Mental Health click here. 

Easy and quick to set up
As the plan goes on to say, “It’s easy to be cynical about the achievability of these big technology-driven shifts in outpatient care… They are already happening in parts of the NHS, so this is clearly ‘the art of the possible.”

Not only is Advice & Guidance already happening, it’s also one of the easiest things to get up and running in the whole of the long-term plan.

The typical length of time that it takes to launch a Consultant Connect Advice & Guidance project is 6 weeks (we have launched projects in 2-weeks before). And the impact is immediate.

So, if you want to give the long term plan a flying start in your area, look at starting or expanding your Advice & Guidance service. If you’re already using eRS, have you thought about including Consultant Connect alongside it to give your GPs a choice of written or telephone advice? There’s no doubt that implementing the plan in full is going to take years, so a quick-win on a highly-visible, high-impact Advice & Guidance project may be just what the doctor ordered as you set out on your journey.

If you’d like to discuss how Consultant Connect could be implemented in your area, please call us on 01865 261467 or email

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