NHS should rent telecare systems like mobile phones

As capital dries up, alternatives to upfront procurement are needed, conference hears

Telecare and telehealth suppliers are being urged to introduce mobile phone-style monthly rental packages in a bid to cut the cost of technology adoption for struggling NHS trusts.

At last week’s King’s Fund International Congress on Telehealth and Telecare in London, the market was encouraged to offer organisations alternatives to high-cost upfront procurement.

Care Services Minister, Paul Burstow, referenced a ground-breaking contract between NHS Gloucestershire and telehealth supplier, Tunstall, saying: “Few people buy an iPhone for cash upfront. They pay for it through a monthly contract. So why couldn't a community nursing provider pay for a remote blood pressure monitor in a similar way? We're already seeing exactly this in places like Gloucestershire, where the primary care trust (PCT) is working with Tunstall.

Few people buy an iPhone for cash upfront. They pay for it through a monthly contract. So why couldn't a community nursing provider pay for a remote blood pressure monitor in a similar way?

“Under the agreement, Tunstall covers the up-front costs such as clinical engagement, pathway re-design and training. They supply NHS Gloucestershire on a per-patient, per-month basis. Any cost savings the PCT makes through things such as reduced hospital admissions, can be re-invested back into frontline NHS services. It's a win-win-win situation; NHS Gloucestershire avoids the need for large up-front costs, the supplier builds a relationship with a customer it would otherwise not have had; and the patient gets their life back."

Linda Prosser, locality commissioning director at NHS Gloucestershire, added: "The provision of telehealth in Gloucestershire has helped our patients to better manage their own conditions, alleviating the pressure on our health and social care services. To know that NHS Gloucestershire's telehealth programme is regarded as a benchmark is a significant achievement for us, and we're proud to have the support of Mr Burstow and the Department of Health."

With a population of more than 600,000 people, NHS Gloucestershire estimates that around 6,000 patients could be eligible for telehealth support. As part of the initial pilot, it is rolling out devices to 2,000 patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic heart failure, chronic heart disease, and diabetes.

It's a win-win-win situation; NHS Gloucestershire avoids the need for large up-front costs, the supplier builds a relationship with a customer it would otherwise not have had; and the patient gets their life back

Dr Will Haynes, a Gloucester-based GP and practice-based commissioning lead for Gloucester, is working with Tunstall on the project. He told BBH: “The widespread use of telehealth technology will complement other developments across the NHS in Gloucestershire which are helping to reduce referrals to hospitals. It will help more patients receive their care within, or as close to, home as possible; and it will help more patients to understand better and self manage their own conditions within the safety and fabric of telehealth monitoring. As a GP, I welcome the opportunity to use these tools to work with patients to understand their condition.”

This new approach to procurement is also being tested by O2 Health, which used the conference to launch its new Help at Hand system. This mobile telecare service costs a flat rate of £20 per person, per month, and provides patients with a GPS-enabled alarm system linking to a receiving centre, providing them with reassurance and support outside their home environment.

Burstow said it was only through these new procurement methods that telehealth and telecare systems would be deployed in large enough numbers to have an impact on the lives of the estimated 15 million people with long-term conditions in the UK.

Trevor Single, chief executive of the Telecare Services Association, added: “Affordable technology will only come when we see these systems driven through at scale. We have got to move away from these endless pilots through to widespread deployment and procurement systems like this will help that to happen.”

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