Health chiefs say unnecessary hospital appointments can be cut by modernising outpatient care in Huddersfield and Calderdale.
More than 350,000 people attend outpatient clinics at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary and Calderdale Royal Hospital every year.
But by offering different ways to access outpatient services – such as replacing traditional face-to-face services with virtual clinics and online consultations – that figure can be reduced considerably.
The Transforming Outpatient Care project, which is being run locally by Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust (CHFT), was outlined to Kirklees Council on Tuesday (Sept 17).
Addressing members of the council’s Health and Adult Social Care Scrutiny Panel the CHFT’s Assistant Director of Transformation, Lisa Williams, said the overhaul was about delivering care in the most appropriate care by making the best use of technology.
But members of the panel sounded a note of caution and warned that some older people were “falling through the net” because they were not technologically savvy.
Ms Williams said the project aimed to “empower” people by giving them fast access to advice and support as well as self-management information and being directed towards the right clinician.
She asked: “How do we reduce the need for people to come to hospital unnecessarily?
“Patients are getting a poor experience.”
She said delivering care in the future was about “the most appropriate setting”, which could mean in a patient’s home rather than a hospital.
The programme has already had an impact. In 2018/19 more than 8,000 patient attendances were delivered differently via new outpatient models that included virtual fracture clinics and one-stop varicose vein clinics.
Next year it aspires to reduce hospital attendances by a further 10% – or 34,000.
The result is that clinicians can re-focus their clinical time in theatres, clinics and in ward areas as well as reducing the amount of money spent on bank and agency workers.
Councillor Alison Munro (Lib Dem, Almondbury) said she had heard of some older people who were unable to access appointments because they lacked the know-how to go online.
And when they did they found “there were no appointments. People are falling through the net.”
Her comments were echoed by Clr Lesley Warner (Lab, Colne Valley), who urged Ms Williams and her team not to ignore the potential risks to elderly patients unable to access key services due to a lack of technological ability.
Panel co-optee Lynne Keady said some older people preferred a more traditional approach and could suffer anxiety over online improvements.
She added: “Do not lose sight of the basics while you are ploughing ahead will all the new stuff.”
Ms Williams responded: “Our service is unsustainable at the moment. We have got to look at how we release that capacity to get that front-end [delivery] right.”