The Rise of Telemedicine

Telemedicine is a general term that refers to the provision of medical care at a distance through telecommunications technology.

Synchronous telemedicine is performed in real time, such as a video call between a patient and a provider. It can also be provider-to-provider such as when an A&E doctor consults with a remote cardiologist on the best treatment for a patient.

Asynchronous telemedicine includes “store-and-forward” technologies, such as online portals that allow patient–provider or provider–provider communications. It also includes chat bots such as those designed to help a patient decide whether to get tested for the virus that causes COVID-19 and remote monitoring of patients through wearable or implantable devices.

Advantages

Telemedicine comes in many shapes and sizes and offers many advantages over the traditional healthcare visit. Two key drivers of health and social care policy in the UK over the last decade have been related to patient convenience and controlling the growing budgetary pressures.  

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Practical steps care homes ought to be taking in light of the Government’s mandatory vaccination announcement

According to reports in the media this week, Whitehall sources are saying it is shortly about to be announced that vaccination is to be made compulsory for care home staff caring for the elderly and vulnerable and looked at for NHS staff.

This move follows a consultation by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) launched in April amidst concerns raised by figures showing there have been over 40,000 deaths in care homes due to COVID-19 and a low uptake of the vaccine amongst care home staff.

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss has told the BBC that the government’s announcement of its decision on mandatory vaccination for care home staff was “very imminent.”

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Covid-19 public inquiry –focusing on health and care

Whilst addressing the House of Commons on Wednesday 12 May 2021, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs that an independent statutory public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic would be convened in spring of 2022.

What is a public inquiry?

Statutory public inquiries are formal investigations initiated by a government minister that is capable of being granted special powers to compel testimony and the release of other forms of evidence. They are called due to the existence of public concern due to a set of events. In the past, inquiries have addressed topics as wide-ranging as transport accidents, fires, the mismanagement of pension funds, self-inflicted deaths in custody, outbreaks of disease, and decision-making that has led to war.

Non-statutory inquiries lack the subpoena powers and ability to take evidence under oath that are afforded to statutory inquiries.

The Inquiries Act 2005 was designed and passed to provide a framework under which future inquiries can effectively be operated and conducted to deliver valuable and practicable recommendations in a timely and cost effective manner.

The main function of statutory inquiries is to address three key questions:

  1. What happened?
  2. Why did it happen and who is to blame?
  3. What can be done to prevent this happening again?
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Social care reform, deaths in care and the pandemic

The Queen’s speech was delivered to both Houses of Parliament on 11 May 2021 with a focus upon protecting the health of the nation and economic growth. Criticism has been made however, of the lack of a concrete commitment to address the long-standing funding issues that have plagued the care sector with a brief mention only made within the speech that “proposals on social care reform will be brought forward”.  This appears to follow a lack of agreement between No 10 and the Treasury regarding a strategy to limit the amounts pensioners have to pay towards their own care. 

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Time to prioritise the mental health of our care workers?

As the pandemic continues, more statistics are coming to light in respect of the wider impact COVID-19 has had, not least on the mental health of frontline care workers. A survey undertaken by the trade union GMB found that 75% of care workers said that their work during this pandemic has led to their mental health being negatively affected. The survey found that many felt their mental health had declined during the second wave of the pandemic, with whose who were only entitled to statutory sick pay reporting lower mental health scores. 

The Worldwide Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Office for Europe recently produced a short film with healthcare workers discussing the impact the pandemic has had on their mental health, as well as the challenges they have faced, whilst providing care throughout for their patients. The main mental health consequences raised were loneliness, elevated stress levels or anxiety, insomnia and depression. There is no doubt that those providing frontline care throughout, have borne the brunt of the pandemic. Care workers have continued to provide care and support to their patients and the wider public throughout the pandemic, bravely facing the challenges this has thrown at them. 

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Regulatory Reform – the wheels are in motion

On 24 March 2021 the Department of Health and Social Care published an open consultation “Regulating Health Care Professionals, Protecting the Public“.  The consultation is set to run until 16 June 2021.

The consultation has been keenly awaited and follows the Government response of July 2019 to a consultation run in 2017.  Whilst change has been delayed owing to issues such as Brexit and, of course, the pandemic, it seems we are edging closer to reform of professional regulation.

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CQC publishes report “Protect, respect, connect – decisions about living and dying well during COVID-19”

The CQC has completed its review of  ‘do not attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation’ decisions during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and has published its findings on 18 March 2021 CQC report – Protect, respect, connect. It has, rightly, received much publicity which will hopefully mean that the recommendations contained in the report will be followed.

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Further calls for tech developments for the Social Care Sector

We have previously written on this blog about the growing use of technology in the social care sphere, and how existing tech can be adapted and developed in particular for use in the care of the elderly. Now, an open letter has been written to the Prime Minister urging him to prioritize funding for the development of technology in the social care sector (see here for a copy of the letter ). The letter is written by PainChek, a medical technology company and is supported by various social care bodies such as Care England, the National Care Forum and the National Care Association. The letter emphasises that dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are the country’s biggest “silent killer” and seriously affect the lives of many people.

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Updated Guidance on the Statutory Duty of Candour: Greater Clarity for Registered Providers

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) have published updated guidance on meeting the duty of candour.

The updated guidance, which can be viewed here, applies to all health and social care providers registered with the CQC.

The update provides a more detailed explanation of what a notifiable safety incident is and now makes clear that the apology which is required as part of fulfilling the duty does not equate to an admission of liability. As such, an apology will not affect a provider’s indemnity cover.

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