NHS turns 70: Health chiefs outline challenges facing service
- Credit: Archant
Harnessing new technologies and building closer ties between health care services will be key in overcoming challenges facing the NHS.
That’s the view of the people running hospitals and mental health services in Suffolk and north east Essex at this pivotal moment in history for the care system.
On this day in 1948 the NHS in England was formed under the principle of providing free care for all at the point of use.
Seven decades later and it is under more pressure than ever before with demand for services rising more rapidly than the rate of investment.
To mark the milestone, executives from Ipswich, Colchester and West Suffolk hospitals, and Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), have spoken to this newspaper about how they are rising to the challenge.
These four organisations are all part of the Suffolk and North East Essex Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP).
The are 44 STPs across England made up of local NHS organisations and councils that are tasked with redesigning health and care services so they work closer together to meet the specific needs of their population. There is a focus on preventing people becoming ill in the first place and providing care closer to home.
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As “sustainability” suggests, the STPs are also required to balance the books and last year the Suffolk and north east Essex partnership made more than £100 million in cuts.
Our STP has been chosen to progress to the next stage and become an Integrated Care System (ICS), which will give local leaders more financial and operational control.
Steve Dunn, chief executive of West Suffolk Hospital, said the ambition in the west of the county was to become a “national blueprint for how services need to join up and integrate”.
The trust that runs the hospital is also now in charge of community services too and is investing in more beds in places like Glastonbury Court court home to ensure only the sickest patients are in an acute environment, and also leads a celebrated early intervention team in a bid to prevent unnecessary emergency admissions to hospital.
Dr Dunn said: “We are seeing as an hospital year on year increases in demand, people are still eating, smoking and drinking too much, not exercising enough, one of the things we need to do is to change our focus and work with local GPs, community services, local authorities and local mental health services to try and transform and drive focus on prevention. We are trying to join things up.”
Dr Dunn said new technologies being used at the trust was saving staff time, improving patient care and breaking down barriers between it and other partner organisations.
These include a new vital signs monitor that enable readings to be placed directly into the patient’s electronic patient record simply by scanning a barcode on their wrist.
The hospital is also able to share real time data with Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridgeshire, where patients are often transferred to and from, and work was being done to enable aspects of medical records to be shared when appropriate between the hospital and local GP surgeries.
Dr Dunn said: “Those technologies in additional to a bit of willpower will help us reduce some of the demands on health services in the future.”
This month Ipswich and Colchester hospitals took integration to the next stage when the trusts that run them merged to become East Suffolk and North East Essex NHS Foundation Trust.
Managing director Neill Moloney said: “We’ve come together as the two organisations because we believe that will enable us to be more resilient than otherwise would have been the case.”
Mr Moloney the biggest challenge facing the two hospitals was dealing with expected patient increases driven by an ageing and growing population.
To address this, Mr Moloney said the trust wanted to reduce the need for patients to come into hospital by developing new technologies and also by helping people stay healthier for longer through its partnerships in the STP. Local authorities are commissioned to run many public health services in their areas, such as weight management and smoking cessation courses.
“We are now are becoming much more successful in treating patients so they are now living longer but the challenge that I think we face is how do we ensure that patients are able to stay healthy for longer,” Mr Moloney said. “We know we have seen quite a big increase in obesity and for people that are overweight that we know drives increase in access to health care. That’s just one example.”
Antek Lejk, chief executive of NSFT, said in the future he wanted to see patients getting help earlier in the community.
He added: “In five years’ time the patient experience should feel different and that should be that there’s more investment in services closer to home that look after their physical and mental health in a joined up way so that fewer people will end up falling into crisis because we will be helping them earlier.”
Mr Lejk said he supported the idea of greater integration between services, but added it was important not to get hung up on the semantics.
NSFT has ambitions through the support of the STP to utilise and get a better understanding of technology, Mr Lejk said.
“So much more happens online that we need to be able to work with and if you look particularly at the way younger people are accessing services and actually things like social media has an impact on people’s mental health so firstly we need to be more aware of the impact of the digital world on our patients and populations and we need to find new ways of engaging with them via that,” Mr Lejk said. “So I would say we are in our infancy but it’s something we need to explore and the STP has got a digital work stream which hopefully will start to tackle some of those things.”