Date published: 11 April 2022

Regular readers of my blog will recall I wrote last month about how Mersey Care have adapted to the demands of the pandemic and the challenges that presents to everyone within the NHS. I explained how we’ve used data to try and predict the various waves of COIVD-19 and how this will become even more important as we integrate services, reduce health inequalities, and improve population health.

Liverpool has been a trailblazer for Telehealth. Our experience with it goes back to 2011, with a small project that supported around 50 patients with heart failure to managing more than 5,500 patients per day at the height of the pandemic. Now it’s become a key tool in our armoury as we expand its use and develop more innovative methods of caring for our many and diverse communities.

Building on the success of our Telehealth service, we led the way in providing Cheshire and Merseyside’s digital response to the pandemic with the use of technology to monitor vulnerable patients discharged from hospital and recovering from COVID-19 in the comfort of their home or preferred place of care, but still under the care of a hospital consultant.

Originally set up as a pilot across Liverpool, the ‘COVID Oximetry@Home’ service began nearly two years ago in partnership with digital health company Docobo and Liverpool University Hospitals’ NHS Foundation Trust (LUHFT) and monitors patients either through an app, on a smart phone or tablet.

It helped reduce the pressure on emergency services, hospital beds and admissions, which if you recall was stretched to the limit at the height of the pandemic. Just as importantly, the service kept patients safe at home with high intensity monitoring and among their loved ones which can help to reduce or prevent isolation.

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The figures demonstrate the success of the COVID Oximetry@Home service. So far 5,875 patients have been supported by this service, with 66 percent of those COVID-19 patients with low oxygen readings triggering a nurse review. Of those, 177 were stepped up to hospital for further treatment and another 118 were referred to their GP for assessment.

The remaining 61 percent of patients that had alerted for low oxygen were monitored directly by the Telehealth nurses meaning that around 3,500 inappropriate hospital or primary care attendances were avoided during this incredibly challenging time for the NHS.

The Telehealth team also had great success in supporting patients across Cheshire and Merseyside, working in partnership with Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital, while also monitoring around 2,000 patients a day with long term conditions like COPD and heart failure at the same time as increasing the service to support COVID-19 patients.

There’s no doubt technology has played a major part in helping us to work in different ways, but it would be a mistake to credit that alone. It’s helped us find new ways of working in challenging times, delivering care closer to home but with access to the right clinical care when its needed.

Telehealth provides nursing care from a distance, but that doesn’t mean it’s distant healthcare. Through monitors, education and follow ups, nurses and clinicians are still able to provide the empathy, assurance and attention to detail you would expect from traditional care.

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Many patients and service users have said they love the convenience and sense of security and independence from being monitored in their own home, they feel more involved and activated in their care. Families and carers have also told us how supported and reassured they’ve felt, which also helps to alleviate their stress and improves communication.

As a Trust we will never stop putting patients at the heart of everything we do and the positive feedback we’ve received from using this technology reinforces that commitment. The experience of the Telehealth service, developed over many years, has established Mersey Care as a national leader in this field.

It’s also presented opportunities for exciting challenges across the Cheshire and Merseyside Integrated Care System (ICS). We already provide remote monitoring for Liverpool, Knowsley, Sefton, St Helens, Halton and Warrington along with West Lancashire from our neighbouring Lancashire and South Cumbria ICS.

We hope there’ll be further opportunities for Mersey Care to work alongside other NHS Providers such as LUHFT, Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital and Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Foundation Trust to deliver similar telehealth services.

Mersey Care is also exploring providing remote monitoring for other ICSs across the country. We believe remote monitoring can be conducted by a remote workforce provided the correct level of training and support is provided.

This could become increasingly important in the years ahead. The NHS is likely to face more challenges with a population that is living longer, where it is becoming increasingly competitive to recruit into the workforce and resources may have to stretch further. In this climate Telehealth can provide a solution to deliver such a transformational change.

Thanks for everything you do

Prof Joe Rafferty CBE (he/his/him)

Chief Executive