A pioneering telehealth PCT has been forced to offer practices cash to refer patients to the hi-tech devices as hundreds of units sit unused.
An internal audit report by the North Yorkshire and York PCT, seen by MiP, reveals just 350 of the 2,000 telehealth units are in use by patients with long-term conditions to monitor vital signs at home.
This figure is a long way off manufacturer Tunstall’s estimate of 1,500 devices being in use by the end of 2010/11.
In reality, 1,650 telehealth units are currently unused and sat in storage.
The biggest telehealth project in England to be organised by a PCT has been hampered by GP reluctance to use the equipment and PCT chiefs have had to dig deep to get them on board.
“After working with a number of GP practices to get up and running with telehealth, we identified the need to offer a small payment to cover the initial workload associated with identifying and referring patients,” said Kerry Wheeler, Assistant Director for Strategy for NHS North Yorkshire and York.
“This comprised of a one-off payment of £200 per practice, plus a further payment of £50 per installation. An additional £50 is offered to GP practices for patients who require telehealth for six months or longer, providing it is clinically appropriate and is incurring additional workload for the practice.”
It was hoped the telehealth programme would lead to savings of around £3.4m by the end of 2010, but the audit found less than £200,00 had been saved by June 2011.
Officials at the PCT criticised the decision to invest in telehealth equipment on such a scale, claiming there was no evidence or business case to justify the move.
Wheeler has since said a full business case for the project was not required as the total value of the programme to the PCT was under £3m.
Latest figures from December 2011 show there have been 659 GP referrals to telehealth devices, 410 patients are currently ‘active’ on telehealth and there has been a 34% reduction in non-elective hospital admissions based on patients using telehealth for six months or more.
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“It’s hard to identify patients who might be suitable – and Tunstalls are not very good at helping practices to do this. In Gloucestershire it was imposed on the GPs at huge cost and some feel angry about the lack of consultation. We offered it to 29 patients and just five have accepted. We have just referred our first four patients” – Julia Tambini, Cotswold Medical Practice