The number of people waiting for NHS care is at a record 7 million - that’s over 10% of the UK’s population. Whilst the NHS has recently cut the backlog of patients waiting 18 months by 30% - from 75,992 in January to 53,911 in June - there is now a daunting target of addressing the 355,774 people waiting for a year by 2025, which is at least 15 times larger than the hurdle it has just jumped. The NHS is clearly being stretched to its limits, and we aren't even in winter yet - something’s got to change, and fast.
The pressure on Trust decision makers to tackle growing waiting lists is immense. But this will continue to be an impossible task unless the current ways that Trust staff are able to manage waiting lists are changed.
Imagine a Trust has a waiting list of 27,000 patients. The staff have a mammoth task of communicating with these patients to gather clinical information to prioritise their needs, communicate with them ahead of appointments with key information, and remove any patients who no longer need to be seen in order to reduce waiting times for other patients.
But this task is made incredibly difficult by outdated routes of communication, like calling patients, hoping they answer, and leaving voicemails, or sending letters about appointments and then expecting them to simply turn up at the right place at the right time. In addition to their highly demanding workloads, healthcare professionals must navigate slow, tedious or unreliable non-interoperable systems. These methods only add to the administrative burden, waste hours and hours of time and money and lead to patients getting lost in the system and missing out on care.
So how can Trusts ‘get back to basics’ and streamline their waiting lists to increase capacity, in order to move through the backlog?
Remove patients who don’t want to be seen
The first, and easiest, priority should be to remove patients from the waiting list who don’t want to be seen. With a single SMS message sent to multiple patients at once, Trusts can identify groups of patients who no longer need to be seen, for example because their issue has been resolved or they’ve been treated elsewhere, and remove them from the waiting list. This can be automated and done at scale, so Trusts can act quickly and move through the backlog, significantly reducing waiting times for other patients.
We recently worked with a large acute NHS teaching hospital across four initial specialities, including Neurology, Paediatric Pain, Gynaecology and Long COVID, to do just this, resulting in the removal of 10% of their patients off those waiting lists. How did this happen? Through sending patients an SMS via Accurx asking them if they still require the service by replying ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. 10% said ‘No’, and were removed from the waiting list, meaning the Trust is moving through its backlog more efficiently and patients who need care are being seen more quickly. After the success across the four initial specialities, the Trust has now rolled Accurx SMS messaging out across 15 other specialities, including paediatrics, epilepsy and respiratory. It’s this kind of really simple, generic technology that just works, that should be commonplace for Trusts to manage the elective backlog.
Resolve simpler referrals that don’t need an appointment
Two-way messaging between patients and care teams means simpler referrals can be resolved without the need for an appointment. For example, a basic clinical review for a patient referred to a dermatology service can be undertaken through reviewing images of a patient’s skin, without an appointment taking place. The best course of action can then be determined from there, which may be a prescription, advice through messaging, or indeed an appointment.
With such high appointment demand, seamless communication means staff can triage patients to the right services and resolve simpler referrals with messaging. This reduces the number of unnecessary appointments that currently take place, and helps stop the waiting list from growing so quickly.
Protect capacity with patient-led appointment management
The recent emphasis on patient portals for hospitals is a positive step in protecting capacity for healthcare teams through reducing DNAs and admin with patient-led appointment management.
Portals give patients a quick way to manage appointments, view information and make requests that can be easily triaged and resolved - without adding to the backlog. This means patients can actually play an important role in reducing DNAs and unnecessary enquiries to free up clinical and administrative capacity for healthcare teams.
Prioritise remaining patients by clinical need
Once patients who don’t need to be seen are removed from the list, simpler referrals are being dealt with without appointments, and patients are playing a role in reducing DNAs to protect capacity, the remaining waiting list should include just the most clinically urgent patients.
These patients can then be easily prioritised by Trust staff through sending clinical questionnaires, for example sending the Oxford Hip Score to patients awaiting a hip replacement. This ensures that staff can seamlessly review, prioritise and triage, meaning the most urgent patients are seen faster.
We want to see Trusts, who are working amidst limited resources and increased staff shortages, being given this kind of tech that allows them to more efficiently manage growing waiting lists. Trusts don’t need to reinvent the wheel to make progress on the backlog - there are simple, effective solutions that can be put in place now.
To find out more about our reducing waiting lists with Accurx, you can visit this page or get in touch about how we can work with your trust at firstname.lastname@example.org