Care home residents who are suddenly taken ill are receiving a prompt medical diagnosis without having to leave their room thanks to a video link ‘telemedicine’ scheme being piloted in West Norfolk by the West Norfolk Alliance health and care team.

The scheme has been set up with funding made available from the £3.9 million ‘winter monies’ allocated by the government to West Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group last autumn. The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, which is a member of the West Norfolk Alliance, is piloting the scheme with three local care homes, who are now linked-in to the 24/7 telemedicine ‘hub’ operated by Airedale NHS Foundation Trust in Yorkshire.

The aim is to improve the overall patient ‘experience’ by treating older patients in the comfort of their familiar surroundings, while helping to avoid hospital A&E admissions.

Emergency calls from residential homes taking part in the scheme are routed to a senior duty nurse in Airedale who carries out a consultation and assessment of the patient via a computer video link at the patient’s bedside. Medical care is then arranged on the basis of the video consultation.

So far three care homes in West Norfolk are linked to the system. They are Goodwins Hall and Amberley Hall in King’s Lynn and Iceni House in Swaffham.

The telemedicine project’s first operational case involved an elderly resident at Iceni House who had discomfort in the legs. She had been told previously by paramedics that future episodes might involve a hospital admission, which was causing her anxiety. This would have meant transfer by ambulance, accompanied by nursing staff from the home, to the Accident and Emergency department at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital for assessment, possibly followed by admission as an inpatient.

General manager of Iceni House, James Eley, said: “We rang the telemedicine centre and spoke to a nurse. We took the laptop to the patient’s room and took the usual observations which the nurse was able to review and discuss with us.

“We agreed that there was no need to call an ambulance in this instance and the nurse spoke to community services to get some further support. We monitored the lady and later that evening she reported she was feeling much better.

“The system worked extremely well. We avoided an inappropriate hospital admission to A&E and the lady was spared the inconvenience and discomfort of getting into an ambulance – something which had been troubling her and had been playing on her mind.

“I think this is definitely the way forward. It’s the medicine of the future.”

Andrew Stenton, Interim Chief Operating Officer at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital said: “This is a great example of holistic care for West Norfolk. A hospital admission is sometimes not the best way to treat a patient. This new technology brings care closer to people’s homes and we are extremely excited to be involved in this innovative approach to the provision of healthcare.”

Dr Ian Mack, Chair of West Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “We are pleased to have been able to support this pilot scheme. Here in West Norfolk we continue to look at the ways that new technology can bring care closer to patients’ homes and provide safe and effective services. This scheme is currently being evaluated, along with other winter pressure money initiatives, and the evaluation will involve the Alliance Clinical Workstream.”

Jo Fisher, Assistant Director for Integrated Services in West Norfolk for Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust, the provider of the county’s community-based NHS services, welcomed the initiative. “Our community matrons and therapists will be on hand to support this pilot, as we strive to help people to remain in their usual place of residence and to avoid an unnecessary hospital admission wherever possible,” she said.

Sue Whitaker, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Services at Norfolk County Council, said: “There are advantages to everyone concerned with a scheme like this. It will take pressure off the hard-pressed ambulance service and hospital emergency services. It will also take away the anxiety of a hospital visit and allows elderly people to be diagnosed in the comfort of their own home.”