Last year, the NHS announced plans to increase the number of elective care treatments by 30% via arrangements with independent health care providers.
During 2022, independent healthcare was responsible for delivering 16% of total NHS-funded planned treatments requiring hospital admission. This is a 9% increase on pre-pandemic levels.
This article will explore how digital tools can help the patient journey between NHS and independent healthcare providers, in relation to elective care services.
How has independent care provision been utilised in the NHS?
In recent years, the NHS and private care organisations have worked together to cope with demand from the Covid-19 pandemic, increasing the number of beds and equipment available to care for the influx of patients being admitted to hospital.
After the height of the pandemic, the NHS has continued to utilise some independent care to help tackle the backlog of around 7 million people who are waiting for treatment - the equivalent of around 10.5% of the UK population.
The patient journey through NHS to independent care
The independent sector tends to focus on specialised treatments - such as orthopaedic surgery and gastroenterology procedures - compared to a wider range of care provided by NHS services.
Recently, we have seen the NHS outsourcing elective care, that would have originally been delivered within an NHS setting, to independent providers.
For example, a patient has been referred by their GP to an NHS hospital for an x-ray with the results showing that they need a hip replacement. The NHS aims to provide elective care treatment within 18 weeks but due to the backlog, waiting times for non-urgent surgeries is significantly longer.
According to NHS England, by the end of July 2022, 6.8 million patients were waiting for treatment. Of these, almost 378,000 were waiting for over 52 weeks and almost 3,000 waiting more than 104 weeks.
Because of these waiting times, the patient has been referred to a private care provider to receive their treatment. Their hip replacement continues to be free at the point of care, as it is still funded by general taxation, but is being conducted outside of an NHS hospital.
After receiving the treatment by the independent care provider, the patient’s care records are then sent back to their GP for review.
Taking pressure off the NHS
If the hip replacement was not available to be treated by an independent care provider, there could be implications for both the patient and the NHS.
Delays because of the NHS backlog would mean the patient spends a longer amount of time with increasing levels of pain, to possibly be readmitted for emergency treatment if their condition deteriorated.
This delayed response adds further pressure on services – admission to A&E adds to their growing demand and now the patient’s condition has worsened, more complex treatment is necessary with perhaps a longer stay in hospital or a social care package to be organised before they can be discharged.
The collaboration between the NHS and independent care providers has been a controversial topic for some time. Despite this, The King’s Fund has stated, ‘…in the near term, the independent sector is likely to have an important role in supporting the NHS’s recovery from the pandemic, particularly in working through the elective backlog’.
By tackling the elective care waiting list, there will inevitably be a rise in care records being transferred between the independent and the NHS providers.
Between 2021-22, the Docman Connect system alone sent 50 million documents electronically, as secondary care services transfer patient records to general practice.
Therefore, one way for independent healthcare organisations to be prepared for this increase is to implement a digital transfer of care solution.
Integrate and digitise care records
Ultimately, no matter where elective care is delivered, all care records should be up-to-date and accessible to the patients GP for ongoing assessment. Utilising a digital tool to speed up practice and integrate services is a step towards managing the demands of health care.
Advanced’s Docman Connect system is a scalable solution, which can support the NHS and independent healthcare providers of all sizes to achieve their transfer of care requirements. The system allows you to track and manage the journey of the documents you send, ensuring that they reach their destination.
We also recognise that documents sent back to GP practices, must be done so via a secure and standardised method. Docman Connect encrypts and sends documents (replacing fax, post and email) in a format that the receiving practice wants.
If you’re interested in how to enhance your transfer of care process between independent healthcare and NHS GPs, read more about our Docman Connect solution.