Lack of funding has halted a successful nurse-led telemedicine scheme, despite such innovations being championed by the government.
Primary care trusts in Leicestershire have said they have no current plans to commission the service which helped slash unnecessary COPD hospital admissions during a pilot study.
As revealed by Nursing Times earlier this month, a 12-month trial of the doc@HOME system – designed to help patients with COPD self-manage their condition – prevented 144 unnecessary hospital admissions to University Hospitals of Leicester Trust.
However, Nursing Times has since learnt that lack of funding means neither of the PCTs in the Leicestershire area – NHS Leicestershire County and Rutland and NHS Leicester City – has commissioned the service, despite its potential to save the acute trust around £259,000 over the course of a year.
As a result, since the pilot ended in April, the 40 ‘home hubs’ used in the study have gone unused, and patients who had previously been kept out of hospital with this system are starting to be readmitted.
Ket Chudasama, associate director for programme delivery at NHS Leicestershire County and Rutland, said: “The telehealth scheme was considered in our 2009-10 local operating plan, but due to financial commitments in other areas we were unable to support it this year.”
A spokesperson for NHS Leicester City said they have been “encouraged by the pilot’s initial results” and are in discussions with local practice based commissioning groups on how they could take it forward.
Speaking at a seminar in London on the future of the NHS this month, health minister Mike O’Brien specifically name-checked telehealth as a way of improving quality of care while also saving money.
“Advances in telemedicine have extraordinary potential to improve patient care and to save money,” he said.
The need to give patients with long term conditions the tools to have more control over their healthcare was also one of the key aims indentified in Lord Darzi’s NHS next stage review, published last year.
The Department of Health are currently piloting a £31m telehealth project to help people self-manage long term conditions in England. Launched in May 2008, around 6,000 patients in Cornwall, Kent and Newham in east London will have conditions such as diabetes and COPD monitored remotely for two years.
Specialist nurses in Scotland also received £700,000 from the Scottish government this year to fund a telehealth project for patients with COPD.