With a new first minister of Scotland, and a shake up to the Scottish National Party which sees Michael Matheson becoming the newly titled Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care, there is much anticipation about what is to come for the NHS in Scotland.
There is no doubt that Michael Matheson faces a major challenge to reduce patient waiting times but we welcome the change, and with Michael’s background in healthcare, we hope we will begin to see positive outcomes for the Scottish population.
In order to reach these positive outcomes, we believe that there is a heightened need for closer collaborations with independent providers as well as a continued acceleration of innovative solutions so that waiting times begin to reduce from the current record high.
Innovation and transforming services
Waiting lists must be at the top of the agenda for the new government, with the overall backlog currently standing at 625,000. It is refreshing to see the change in title for the Cabinet Secretary for Health to now include NHS Recovery and so we hope that tackling these waiting lists will be the main priority.
By innovating and transforming services in line with digital solutions, the NHS in Scotland could see faster reductions in waiting times and modernised patient pathways which will improve patient outcomes.
There are a multitude of digital solutions already available, with NHS Scotland proving to be ahead of the curve with the release of its first Digital Health and Care Strategy in 2018. This was then scaled at pace as the effects of the coronavirus pandemic set in and the need for remote consultations increased.
‘Near Me’ is one such innovative digital solution which was released during the pandemic to provide patients with remote access to healthcare with a focus on reducing face to face appointments.
Further innovation is required, however, to continue this success and provide improved solutions for the workforce and patients in Scotland.
Learnings from the rest of the UK
NHS Scotland are not alone when it comes to high waiting lists, with NHS England and NHS Wales both undergoing similar pressures, but there could be opportunities to take learnings from the services which are seeing transformational changes within these nations.
For example, NHS England already works closely with independent providers to deliver innovative virtual platforms at scale, such as teledermatology, digital pre-operative assessment, virtual outpatient services and virtual wards, which could provide learnings for NHS Scotland.
In one Integrated Care Board (ICB) in England, we delivered teledermatology as a solution to reduce a local Trust’s dermatology waiting lists from 80 weeks to just 48 hours. Within the first four months, we saw a 40% reduction in 2-week wait referrals being sent to secondary care, and 40% of overall referrals being managed outside of secondary care.
Dermatology services currently have the highest waiting lists compared to other services, with 3,896 patients waiting to receive treatment, however NHS Scotland is currently working on a national teledermatology programme which follows successful implementation in England.
Building on the clear successes happening within Scotland already, by exploring what’s working within the NHS in England and Wales could help to optimise patient pathways further and reduce backlogs as a result.
Making it easier for independent providers to work with NHS Scotland
It’s important to start opening discussions between independent providers and NHS Health Boards in Scotland.
There are many benefits that working with an independent provider can bring, including delivering innovative digital solutions, providing additional workforce, and supporting with out of hours outpatient clinics.
Services can be designed to seamlessly adapt to the structure which each NHS Health Board is already utilising, with our staff becoming an extension of the current workforce, providing extra resource for the service to help optimise pathways and improve patient outcomes.
Currently there are many barriers which make it difficult for NHS Scotland to know about the benefits which independent providers can offer, but by opening these discussions and encouraging more collaborative working, we can work together to tackle waiting lists and continue to improve the way healthcare is delivered in Scotland.
There is lots to be learned about what the new Scottish Government have planned for healthcare in Scotland, but we hope that there will be a continued increase in innovative solutions and more open discussions about how the independent sector can support the NHS in the short, medium and long term.
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Photo Caption: Xyla Elective Care is calling for more innovative solutions to support the transformation of services in NHS Scotland as part of the new Government (Credit Xyla Elective Care)