Insight

Overcoming the barriers to developing future-ready community diagnostic services

Even before the pandemic began, demand for diagnostic services of all types were rising and, in some cases, outstripping capacity. Covid-19 has exacerbated this problem, deepening the diagnostic backlog with knock-on effects for cancer and elective care.

However, it has also demonstrated what is possible. Seemingly complex changes were implemented at a pace not seen before, transforming services within a matter of weeks to ensure they continued during lockdowns, whilst incorporating Covid-minimisation measures.

Although the challenge of catching up with the diagnostic backlog is a steep one, it presents similar opportunities to deliver much-needed long-term change in diagnostic services.

Reshaping diagnostics for the new normal

The challenges created by Covid-19 are ongoing and require new and sustainable solutions. Standard diagnostic pathways have remained the same for many years, despite the fact they are often inefficient both for the NHS and its patients.

But the drive to develop a system that harnesses new ways of working and new technology has already begun. This includes more than 40 new community diagnostic centres that are currently being rolled out by NHS England and set to provide around 2.8m scans in their first full year of operation. Situated in a range of settings from local shopping centres to football stadiums, they are designed to give patients more direct access to the full range of diagnostic tests closer to home.

Crucial to the success of many of these initiatives, will be the relationship between the community and acute services. The transition to integrated care systems (ICS) will help to create this, but a truly interconnected system will still require wider change.

An independent review of diagnostics services for NHS England recently outlined the key components of a new service delivery model. This article explores some of its recommendations and the barriers Trusts need to overcome to achieve them.

What could the future of community diagnostic services look like?

There are three key models to transforming community diagnostic services.

Optimal care pathways

Building on established pathways through existing community support, such as pharmacists, opticians, and phlebotomy services, is one model of delivery that realises the benefits of a greater separation of acute and elective diagnostics.

This provides patients with quicker and more convenient access to care closer to home or work, whilst relieving pressure on acute sites. Telephone and virtual consultations are also expected to play a much larger role in diagnostic services in the near future.

Optimising these established pathways brings a range of challenges which Trusts need to consider, including:

  • Financial arrangements – Ensuring the commercial arrangements are cost-effective and attractive for the commissioner and the service provider, is important in order for services to run smoothly. A comprehensive activity forecast and tested commercial model is critical.
  • Care boundaries – Optimising care pathways should involve eliminating the boundaries that still exist in the care system. The transition to an ICS model will play a key role here. As will an effective commercial arrangement that gives the patient true flexibility and choice on where they receive their care in the community.
  • Collaborative working – Integrated care requires collaboration on all fronts. Often parity of esteem or an assumption of vested interest builds barriers between professionals. Ensuring clinical professionals are engaged and introduced at an early stage will help alleviate this.
  • Public perception – With the introduction of any new service model, comes the requirement for change management. Fear of a patient backlash often deters Trusts from doing this, but regular patient engagement and feedback is vital.
  • Social value – An area of increasing priority, the service provider should demonstrate how they will aid recovery of the local community and economy through employment and training, as well as community support.

Community diagnostic hubs

There is an opportunity to develop new diagnostic service models outside the existing Healthcare landscape that are more responsive and innovative, such as community (or remote) diagnostic hubs (CDHs).

They provide a one-stop shop for patients requiring potentially life-saving diagnostic tests closer to home. As noted earlier, centres that deliver this kind of service are already being rolled out and have begun combatting the impacts of Covid-19.

Their numbers and the services they offer are set to grow over the next five years in a bid to reduce the pressure on acute care. In the near term, non-invasive diagnostics are the most viable, but with developments in technology and practice, there will be an increase in more time-consuming, invasive diagnostics in the community.

As part of this initiative, Akeso supported leading specialist Trusts to implement CDHs. There are several key challenges to consider during this process to ensure a successful implementation:

  • Strategic vision and scope – Fully define the strategic objectives for the hub before implementation. This will inform the scope and operating model as well as support timely decision making and evaluation.
  • Patient need – Identify who the hub’s patients will be and what their needs are. Every aspect of the service model and patient pathway must be built around this.
  • Project management office (PMO) – Robust planning from the outset is critical to the success of the project implementation. With involvement from multiple stakeholders, capturing dependencies at each stage will not only ensure the Project is delivered on budget, but also prevent surprises further down the line.
  • Resourcing – Identify and engage with the right people early on. Collaborating with clinical and operational people across the organisation, who have the right expertise and experience to implement a new service model will avoid potential setbacks.
  • Capacity modelling – Model patient activity across the whole patient pathway. Capacity within the CDH must align with the Trust’s internal capacity. This may be dependent on the capacity to book patients’ assessments and follow-up consultations.
  • Service resilience – In light of Covid-19 ensure the safety of patients and service resilience by reviewing patient flow and infection control.

New diagnostic technologies

Innovation is advancing rapidly in areas such as genomic testing, point-of-care testing and the use of artificial intelligence for imaging, endoscopy, and wearable devices. These have the potential to transform the service diagnostic hubs can offer.

Historically Healthcare providers have been slow to adopt new technological innovations. That is why it is important to explore the most effective way to introduce them. Here are some considerations to bear in mind:

  • Clinician uptake – Clinicians need to be encouraged to trust the integrity of new technology and move away from established processes.
  • Patient awareness – Patients must be supported to understand and adopt new technology. Striking the right balance between a face-to-face and digital service is vital.
  • System interoperability – New systems and equipment will need to exchange information seamlessly. Clinical data comes in a variety of formats and terminology, which means standardised catalogues will need to be developed for complete interoperability.
  • Safety – Safeguards must be put in place to ensure data compliance, and Healthcare workers are given the time and knowledge to implement them.

Combining these elements will create community diagnostics services that can rise to the challenges created by the pandemic, while also improving patient care.

By considering the key factors mentioned here at the outset, Trusts will be able to successfully implement and operate each element successfully.

As experts in delivering high quality solutions to the Healthcare sector, Akeso has a track record of supporting Trusts to do this in a way that develops the effective diagnostic services of tomorrow. To find out what we offer, get in touch at enquiries@akeso.co.uk

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Chris Robson

Chris Robson

Managing Director
Scan4Saftey Programme
Case Study

Implementation of a Trust-wide Inventory Management System and Scan4Saftey programme

Akeso & Co supported Homerton University Hospital Foundation Trust (HUHFT) in the design and implementation of a Scan4Safety Programme and Inventory Management System (IMS). Captured in a detailed business case, the initiative is set to drive significant operational efficiencies and improvements to patient safety and care.

Akeso - Homerton Case Study - Healthcare Consultancy

Challenge

Homerton University Hospital Foundation Trust (HUHFT) is a major NHS provider of acute care in the London Borough of Hackney. With services spanning 75 locations across East London, including approximately 450 beds, 11 wards, three day-surgery theatres and six main operating theatres, HUHFT has a complex set of services and supporting supply chain.

Following a thorough opportunity assessment, a number of challenges were identified with regards to the current operations, accumulating in clinical time wasted, health and safety risks, as well as opportunities for cost improvements.

Some of the key challenges identified include:

  • Inefficient and inconsistent supply chain processes across wards and departments
  • Lack of visibility and control of inventory levels due to limited reporting capabilities
  • Segmented spending on products and consumables across wards and departments
  • Limited traceability of theatre implants through the supply chain to procedure due to manual processes
  • Strained working relationships between clinical and material management staff

Solution

To address the challenges identified, the project recommended HUHFT would benefit significantly from a Trust-wide IMS to improve inventory management and achieve patient-level costing. We supported HUHFT through a three-phased approach from business case development through to successful implementation.

Phase 1) Secure investment through a robust business case

With the support of key HUHFT clinical and operational stakeholders, we developed a compelling business case and secured the required backing to proceed to procurement. Through a detailed appraisal of the potential qualitative and quantitative benefits and risks, it was identified that implementation of a trust-wide IMS could deliver £1.4m in benefits over the next five years, from an initial £469k one-time investment.

Phase 2) Source and partner with the optimal provider

Following a route to market assessment, we facilitated a phased procurement process through a formalised ‘mini-competition’ to assist the Trust in their rigorous selection of a suitable IMS provider. Through taking this approach, we were able to secure an optimal solution balancing system capability and total five-year cost.

Phase 3) Implementation through rigorous PMO and change management

We project managed the implementation of the new IMS and change management of associated processes encompassed within the Scan4Safety programme, reporting to the patient safety board. From the outset, programme governance was implemented to ensure the new system and its related benefits were achievable and sustainable.  This involved the recruitment and setup of a programme board of Trust directors, and the chairing of regular meetings and presenting programme updates at Trust-wide Scan4Safety engagement sessions.

Results

The full benefits of the IMS solution will be seen during the next five years but it is already delivering significant savings and process improvements.

The one-time investments equating to £469,000 and subsequent improved processes is expected to generate £1.4m in cost savings, including:

Akeso - Homerton Case Study - Results

In addition to the projected quantitative benefits, implementation of a Trust-wide IMS is also expected to deliver number of qualitative benefits, including:

  • A reduction in the likelihood of ‘never events’ thanks to the patient level costing functionality which improves the traceability of implants, surgical instruments and medical equipment.
  • The release of up to six clinical WTEs, allowing them to re-focus on patient facing activities.
  • Automated processes, such as Barcode-driven ordering, that drive efficiencies in areas including procurement and recall.
  • Additional management information insights that enabled further efficiencies.
  • Increased clinical confidence in supply chain processes.
  • Compliance with GS1 and Scan4Safety.

What is next for HUHFT?

Following the success of the IMS and Scan4Safety pilot programme, HUHFT will continue to drive adoption of Scan4Safety to extended use cases, including potentially Blood Transfusion Scanning, Pathology samples, eMedicine, and many more.

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A door to redesigning a one of a kind NHS shared service facility
Case Study

Redesigning a one-of-a-kind NHS shared service facility

We’ve helped shape the NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership (NWSSP)’s long-term use and vision of a one-of-a-kind NHS physical shared service facility.

NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership – Potential

Challenge

In 2018, Welsh Government acquired a 275,000 sq.ft. warehouse in Newport to store core medical supplies as part of the EU Exit preparations. Longer term, the Welsh Government intended that the warehouse would be a strategic investment for Wales. NWSSP were responsible for defining the future shared service opportunity and asked us to develop a strategic outline case, demonstrating that the facility could generate broad benefit to Wales and be financially sustainable in the future.

NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership – Opportunities

Solution

We understood the importance of maximising the warehouse’s potential to contribute towards NHS Wales and broader government strategic priorities. We broke the project into four phases to determine how best to respond to the opportunity.

The first was to engage with key stakeholders to identify how everyone might benefit from the warehouse. The second was to evaluate service options that could deliver clinical, social, operational, and financial benefits for the Welsh Healthcare system. The third was to outline how the warehouse space could be best configured to support different functions and balance a range of benefit opportunities. And the final phase was to draft the strategic outline case and recommend the preferred future option for the Welsh government’s approval.

NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership – ROI

Results

The NWSSP Executive approved the preferred option and ring-fenced ongoing funding, with the adopted approach estimated to generate over £8m in benefits over the next 10 years. The recommended configuration will serve as a cornerstone for key Welsh strategies including the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, Taking Wales Forwards and A Healthier Wales. It also provides an opportunity to fast track and accommodate initiatives already underway, including the Transforming Access to Medicines Programme.

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Peter Marshall

Peter Marshall

Associate Director