Consultant Connect enables clinicians to triage waiting lists anywhere in the country
Consultant Connect receives 100,000 calls and messages a year from GPs seeking advice on patients
A health-tech business has sparked an NHS ‘revolution’ by creating software that lets an NHS consultant whittle down a hospital waiting list from hundreds of miles away.
Consultant Connect’s technology enables an NHS consultant in Blackpool to triage waiting lists 135 miles away in Coventry, giving the health service a crucial extra resource of ‘care anywhere’ to deal with the COVID backlog.
The triage service prioritises the most-urgent cases by fast-tracking them for a hospital appointment.
And cases which do not need to be referred are returned to primary care with advice on how to deal with them, easing pressure on hospitals.
The pool of 200 NHS consultants on Consultant Connect’s National Consultant Network is a unique resource in UK healthcare.
They already receive around 100,000 calls and messages a year from GPs looking for advice on their patients.
Revolutions come in all shapes and sizes. Penicillin was a revolution; the CT scanner was a revolution; and this is a revolution – albeit a smaller one, but a revolution nonetheless
And this new initiative allows the consultants to work directly with hospitals to help them manage long waiting lists.
Eric Mutema, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, is based at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, but has triaged hundreds of cases for GPs in Coventry, more than 130 miles away.
He said: “It’s a tech revolution, an innovation that is helpful to the NHS.
“This is especially true post-COVID, where there’s so much pressure with staff shortages and when we have to be so focused on where we use our human resources.
“It takes away a big chunk of NHS pressure in a reliable way where you can track and audit the outcomes.”
Dr Patrick Davey, a semi-retired cardiology consultant from Northampton who works on the network, added: “Revolutions come in all shapes and sizes. Penicillin was a revolution; the CT scanner was a revolution; and this is a revolution – albeit a smaller one, but a revolution nonetheless.”
A backlog of more than 32,000 referrals in 14 specialties across 12 NHS trusts – in Cheshire, Yorkshire, the Midlands, Essex, and Norfolk – have been triaged by the consultants in the network in the last two years.
And NHS areas can switch on or switch off the network flexibly as they need it.
Specialty areas the network is targeting include diabetes and endocrinology; ear, nose and throat; paediatrics; ophthalmology; dermatology; and gynaecology.
Diabetes and endocrinology have the highest rate of referrals that can be returned to GPs with detailed advice across all the network’s projects, with nearly two in five (38%) of 272 cases not needing referrals once a consultant has looked at them.
We’re proud that we have created technology that gives the NHS a unique ‘care anywhere’ resource
But the triage process is not just about finding unnecessary referrals. Most importantly, it ensures the right cases are given priority.
Earlier this year, a cardiology consultant in Surrey looked at a referral in Norfolk and asked the GP to conduct an ECG on the patient.
When the consultant saw the results of the ECG, they realised the patient urgently needed a pacemaker – and the appointment was booked a week after the initial triage.
If this had not been spotted, the patient could have been sitting on the referral list for months – and may not have survived the wait.
Jonathan Patrick, chief executive of Consultant Connect, said: “We’re proud that we have created technology that gives the NHS a unique ‘care anywhere’ resource.
“COVID has caused huge backlogs and our National Consultant Network is playing a significant part in helping work through them.”
Eric Mutema is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist based at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, part of the Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
He has worked on Consultant Connect’s National Consultant Network for three years.
Initially, he took calls from GPs to advise them on patients with gynaecological health issues while the patient was in the surgery.
And his advice meant unnecessary referrals were often avoided.
He now also works on the network’s referral triage service, looking at lists of referrals made by GPs in Coventry and Warwickshire – 135 miles from his Blackpool base – to highlight referrals that could be sent to a new primary care service.
I find that about a quarter of the patients who have been referred to hospital don’t need to go there – and that saves a lot of capacity
He has so far reviewed over 1,200 referrals, with around one in four referrals returned to primary care, either with detailed advice and management plans ensuring prompt treatment and preventing unnecessary waits to be seen at the hospital or to navigate patients that can be seen in primary care as part of a new primary care gynaecology service.
He said: “I find that about a quarter of the patients who have been referred to hospital don’t need to go there – and that saves a lot of capacity.”
But he added that the other side of referral triage – fast-tracking urgent cases – is even more important.
“Getting the opportunity to review them means they get seen quicker,” he said.
Mutema accesses referral triage cases on his laptop through the Consultant Connect platform and is notified by email when new referrals come through.
He is sent batches of around 100 referrals a time which takes him on average just over a week to work his way through.
He said: “I tend to triage early morning before work. The flexibility is brilliant. I’ll find I have a spare hour and I say to myself, ‘Right, here we go, let’s do this.’ The ability to do it anywhere and anytime is really good.”
And he believes more NHS hospitals should consider referral triage as an option.