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Driving down the 78-week wait for healthcare

The NHS Chief Executive at Northumbria Healthcare Trust, Sir Jim Mackay, recently announced that the next phase of the elective recovery plan would see a major shift of emphasis toward reducing the long wait for outpatient appointments. Sir Jim Mackay also called for a drive in consumer behaviour change, encouraging patients to ask about virtual outpatient appointments where the local waits are long. According to HSJ, NHS data indicates that there are 57,000 patients waiting 78-weeks plus.

Virtual outpatient clinics are not a new solution for tackling this backlog, but there is still an issue with adoption on a widespread scale across the county. This could be due to existing workforce shortages, fears of operational changes, financial concerns, or a combination these. Virtual Lucy™, HBSUK’s virtual consulting platform, addresses these concerns and is proven to support the NHS in tackling the growing 78-week wait backlog.

As with many other NHS trusts, Buckinghamshire NHS Healthcare Trust had been facing long patient waiting lists as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. One clinical area for which there was particular concern was dermatology. The trust had struggled with large dermatology backlogs for some time, but the pandemic and the high rate of referrals for dermatology had compounded the situation. As a result, patients were having to wait long periods of time for a secondary care appointment, meaning their condition would go untreated and was at risk of worsening. Due to the lack of consultant dermatologists nationwide, the problem could not be solved by increased recruitment and insourcing. Instead, Buckinghamshire NHS Healthcare Trust outsourced to HBSUK, who used Virtual Lucy™ to support the recovery of their dermatology services.

Upon introduction to HBSUK’s Virtual Lucy™ pilot programme in July 2021, Buckinghamshire NHS Healthcare Trust had a dermatology Patient Tracking List (PTL) of 2,109. Within just three months of the pilot programme, there was a visible reduction in Buckinghamshire NHS Healthcare Trust’s waitlist. The trust went from an overall dermatology PTL of 2,109 in July 2021 to 1,552 in October 2021, with a total reduction of 27% (557 patients). The non-admitted dermatology PTL reduced by 37%.

Virtual Lucy™ is underpinned by a governance structure that is focussed on delivering the best possible experience and quality of care. Virtual Lucy™ clinicians receive specific training in the delivery of assessments, and the quality of these are measured and monitored through an audit process, which is then fed back to clinicians. By following this process, both Virtual Lucy™ and its clinicians can ensure the best possible experience and quality of care, as measured by patient-reported experience measures (PREMS) and a narrowing variation of outcomes.

Virtual Lucy™ is built to support both initiatives outlined by Sir Jim Mackay. It connects patients to clinical experts, allowing rapid and asynchronous assessments, as well as triage and management, leading to significant reductions in outpatient waiting lists and empowering all patients through virtual access to healthcare.

Find out more about Buckinghamshire NHS Healthcare Trust’s pilot programme with Virtual Lucy™: https://www.hbsuk.co.uk/digital-supporting-nhs-transformation

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