The last ‘worst winter’: How digital health technology can end the annual NHS crisis
This time last year, the NHS was bracing itself for the worst winter on record as the COVID-19 pandemic and its knock-on impacts dragged on1. We’d hoped we would end 2022 in a better position, but this is not the case.
As we approach the end of 2022, things are set to be even worse. Soaring cases of respiratory infections including flu, COVID and RSV threaten what is being referred to as a 'tripledemic', which will only compound the pressure on an already struggling NHS.
Combine this with the cost of living crisis which is damaging people’s health, squeezed budgets, staffing shortages and a demoralised NHS workforce and you have the perfect storm for a winter from hell. It comes as no surprise that nurses are striking across England, Northern Ireland and Wales in December due to the pressure of their workload and pay2.
It is glaringly apparent that our healthcare system is struggling to cope with demand and, as a result, services are crumbling. People with chronic conditions are much more susceptible to other infections in winter, especially if they are elderly or frail.
As a result, hospital beds are maxed out which means there’s no room for new patients from A&E. Consequently, people are being turned away and sent to other centres, which only delays treatment and leads to worse outcomes. The knock-on effects are like dominoes falling and now we have reached a crisis situation that’s costing health, money and lives.
Working in the NHS, we always accept that winter is a difficult time, but it’s steadily getting worse. This is simply not sustainable and has a huge human and societal cost.
Something has to change.
Putting virtual wards to work
At Huma, we’re building the evidence to show why digital health technology is the solution that’s urgently needed to relieve the pressures on the NHS by saving time, increasing clinical capacity and helping deliver better care.
One key example is virtual wards, which are a top Government priority to alleviate the winter pressure and are being rolled out across the country3.
Huma’s hospital-at-home platform has already improved efficiency in the NHS and has proven to almost double clinical capacity4. According to research, our remote patient monitoring system requires 40% less time to review patients, which helps relieve the pressure on overwhelmed nurses and clinicians5.
Virtual wards can also significantly improve patient outcomes and save lives. One recent study found that COVID-19 patients who used Huma’s app to monitor their health status had a 3-4 times lower mortality rate and shorter duration of hospitalisation than those who didn’t use it6.
Cutting waiting lists and workloads
Digital health technology helps to ensure that people whose health is deteriorating get timely access to the care they need, while freeing up precious appointments that aren’t needed by those whose health is stable.
In one study, we collaborated with Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals who used Huma’s technology to remotely monitor cardiac surgery patients and identify those at risk of deteriorating. Out of 525 patients, over 9% were flagged as high risk and as a result, almost 90% of those who were deteriorating were prioritised for earlier life-saving surgery, illustrating the crucial role of digital tools in modern healthcare7.
In another study with Welsh health boards, Huma’s remote monitoring app was evaluated in patients with heart failure. The results showed more than 80% reduction in the time needed to optimise patients’ medications (34 days compared vs 6-8 months national average) and a 19% drop in the number of outpatient appointments. What’s more, 10% of patients avoided readmission to hospital following discharge8.
One of the main reasons behind this growing body of evidence is the fact that remote patient monitoring enables better communication between patient and the care team. In some cases, over 80% of instances where patients have had their care escalated has been as a result of the app9. This shows how problems can be dealt with in a more timely and proactive way before they get worse.
Time for a change
Winter comes around every year and as the population grows and ages, the pressure on the NHS will only increase. We must now focus on improving efficiency so that we can cope with these growing demands.
To address the NHS shortcomings, we need to work smarter and more efficiently. Although there is no single solution, digital health technology has the power to make a huge difference across many areas as demonstrated.
An accumulating body of research is proving that health technology can ease the pressures on healthcare workers and provide better care and outcomes for patients. Most importantly, it can save time and valuable resources by freeing up clinicians, nurses and other healthcare workers from routine tasks so that they can focus on treating the patients who need care the most.
It’s a no-brainer that we should be using digital health solutions. The healthcare workforce and Huma are more than ready to deliver on this, but it is now up to the NHS to implement them as quickly as possible. This should be the last ‘worst winter’ - it’s time to change things for the better.
Discover Huma's virtual ward technology