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What the NHS can learn from social housing

The NHS should adopt new technologies in order to reduce costs and improve quality of services.

The challenges facing the NHS are well recognised. The continued funding squeeze, rising demand and the need to safeguard quality and data security, combine to exert pressure across the entire system, with none of these factors likely to abate. It’s now widely acknowledged that the time for talking about the challenges needs to make way for action.

Despite the NHS employing 1.7m people across the UK and being the country’s biggest employer, there are staff shortages across the whole of the NHS, and some particular pressure points in areas where the workforce needs to grow. The aspiration to move services out of hospital to provide care closer to home, and to offer new models of care delivery, depend on an expanding community care workforce.

Such a system is something that is being implemented by some healthcare providers and they are benefiting from savings, improved patient care quality and increased workforce morale. However, healthcare providers adopting these systems are relatively few in number. Conversely within other industries, particularly social housing, it is the norm. The system they use is called field service management technology.

Just like healthcare providers social housing providers such as local authorities and housing associations have to plan, schedule and mobilise their community-based workforce; in the case of social housing they tend to be looking after properties rather than people. However, the same need for customer data security applies. They also have the same need to reduce costs, improve productivity and increase quality of service for the end user – generally to do more with less.

So how does it work?
Patient appointments can be planned and scheduled using dynamic software. This ensures the right practitioner with the right skills is appointed to either a home visit or elsewhere, which is different to rostering. Rostering ensures that you have enough people to fulfil the demand at any point in time.

The practitioner is then able to see the jobs assigned to them for the day ahead via a mobile workforce application. Encrypted, patient records and relevant information are available, securely to them via the mobile workforce application. Rather than having to travel back to the office to key in patient notes regarding the visit, it can be done via the application during the visit.

Mobile Device Management software can be applied to the mobile device the practitioner uses, which enables your organisation to manage and control security policies for each mobile user and protect data while both in motion and when held on the device. This ensures that patient data is secure and in compliance with all healthcare regulations.

Kirona have enabled North Lanarkshire Council to improve its quality of health and social care service, whilst also saving in excess of £1.5m. By implementing Kirona’s field service management solutions across its Housing Property Services and Home Support Services the council have been delighted with the outcomes. Together with the impressive cost savings the council has also improved the service for patients receiving care at home via the Home Support Team, as well as their social housing tenants.

Ultimately, the technology exists to meet the challenges of the NHS; it’s just a case of when it will be as widely implemented as it already is by social housing providers.

David Murray is CEO of Kirona.


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My constituency needs more doctors - a new medical school will help

Boston and Skegness will get one of the five medical new schools recently announced by the government. 

Boston and Skegness is the constituency that – infamously – voted more vigorously than anywhere else to leave the European Union. More than three-quarters of voters turned out for the referendum, and 76 per cent of them wanted to leave. What was the specific reason cited most often for doing so? 

It was either “I can’t get an appointment at my GP”, or “A&E is full to burst”. These answers were proffered as an example of the pressures stemming from immigration, because the lens through which Brexit was seen on the ground was as often as not, the NHS. No wonder, then, that big red bus was so powerful.

On talking to local NHS staff, however, it wasn’t immigration per se that had challenged the system most profoundly: it was the difficulty in recruiting staff to rural and coastal Lincolnshire, and it was the blessing of a population that is living longer and longer. Some pointed out that prior to the surge in immigration, the less and less used maternity unit at Boston’s Pilgrim Hospital was on a trajectory that would have threatened closure as it would have become harder to run safely. Hugely dedicated local NHS staff were being put under increasing pressure, and ultimately the limited number of doctors training in the system were more likely to go to larger hospitals where opportunities to teach or specialise were hugely attractive.

So from even before I was elected in 2015, and well before the referendum, it was obvious that Lincolnshire needed a radical shot in the arm to alter patterns of recruitment for doctors. That, said the universal consensus, was a medical school based in the county.

Still, it was truth be told a campaign I signed up to lead in Parliament with little genuine hope of success. Most recently, in every departmental Health Questions in the Commons, it felt as though every MP in the place stood up solely to say that their constituency deserved a slice of the government’s plan to increase medical school places by 1,500.

The government’s criteria, however, did dictate that it was places that were “under-doctored” that would be given a first look at the new scheme, and there was a particular focus on increasing GP and mental health services. All these the Lincoln University bid did, and by signing up to do the scheme jointly with the well-established Nottingham University Medical School a good deal of bureaucracy was cannily avoided. It was rightly not enough to say that Lincolnshire needs more doctors. Doctors tend to practice near to where they train; ergo we get a shiny new facility. Knowing that Lincolnshire fitted government criteria so well, I was conscious that the role of a local MP must surely be to make sure the bid accurately reflected that reality.

Some 6,000 medical students start their training each year, and Jeremy Hunt’s 25 per cent expansion of that number by 2020, hand in hand with a similar expansion in nursing training, is a transformational exercise for the NHS. It addresses the long-term deficit in doctors that we’ve locally sought to plug with overseas recruitment and a £20,000 golden handshake for GP trainees, and demonstrates that for all the talk of the NHS needing increased investment, the challenges don’t simply require extra cash. Indeed, with more doctors in the system there are likely to be lower bills thanks to fewer locums with their higher wages, and less stress on the existing workforce resulting in sickness and absence. It’s a classic case of investing to save. And on the way there’s a commitment to increase the diversity of medical students, attracting more applicants from state schools and making the typical doctor look a little and sound a bit more like the typical patient.

So alongside Lincoln, Sunderland, Lancashire, Chelmsford and Canterbury each get new medical schools, while other existing ones expand. All this, of course, is only possible if there is the money to fund that expansion, and Conservative stewardship of the economy has delivered that. These are announcements that defy the accusation that the government is consumed by Brexit, and indeed, they also address concerns that leaving the European Union might further challenge recruitment. That, in truth, remains to be told but inarguably expanding medical schools can do no harm. 

Speaking personally, however, there’s a second truth: voters routinely tell their MPs that we achieve nothing for the man or woman on the street, and rural areas each claim to be forgotten counties. Every one of these new medical schools demonstrates not only genuine commitment to the NHS from this government, but also the fruits of huge coalitions of MPs, healthcare professionals, university staff and others, all making a single, local case to Whitehall. This is a plan that will take a number of years to bear fruit, but it is also one that will last for generations – and it’s an example of long-term thinking on healthcare from public servants across the board. More of that, hopefully, is to come soon.


Matt Warman is the Conservative MP for Boston and Skegness.