Home » Supporting the NHS » COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the value of homecare

Robyn Busby

Business Unit Head, Chronic Oncology, Ipsen UK

The COVID-19 pandemic has driven an acceleration in the use of homecare services across the UK – representing a win/win for the NHS and patient care alike.

COVID-19 forced fundamental changes on the NHS. While many were born of necessity and were challenging to implement, they look set to supersede traditional ways of working.

One example is homecare, which has seen an exponential rise in uptake since the start of the pandemic.

Pharmaceutical company Ipsen saw a 25% increase in usage across its homecare services and an increase in the number of people trained to administer their own treatment during the pandemic.

Robyn Busby, Chronic Oncology Business Unit Head at the company, says: “A number of things have kept people away from hospitals this year. Many services shut down, and people were too scared to go to hospital.”

The possible implications are dire. University College London predicts that almost 18,000 people with cancer in England could die due to not accessing care early enough – a 20% increase on previous years.

Healthcare teams across the UK are working hard to address this. The challenge is bringing services back online and dealing with backlogs, while also dealing with the second wave of the pandemic and normal winter pressures.

Utilising alternative methods to expand capacity

Expanding capacity and keeping people out of healthcare settings to control infection levels go hand in hand, says Busby.

Healthcare professionals are triaging a lot more through virtual appointments on the phone or online. Services have become more digitally capable.

“It’s all about making sure we don’t expose people who might be vulnerable to risk,” she says.

For those on ongoing treatment, such as for cancer or long-term conditions, homecare has become key.

Chemotherapy at home and training people to administer their own injections, for example, has significantly reduced pressure on the NHS.

Based on the number of referrals to Ipsen’s homecare services over the last 12 months, homecare could save an estimated 5,500 NHS clinic appointments each year. The nurse administration service could add another 6,500 to that total.

This approach doesn’t just free up healthcare professional time, though, it can also contribute the more effective self-management of chronic diseases, says Busby.

“It’s a win/win. The NHS is able to deal with capacity in clinics, and people have an enhanced level of independence,” says Busby.

“However, successfully working this way takes true collaboration and partnership between ourselves, the homecare providers and, most importantly, the NHS.”

Encouraging partnership collaboration

Back in March and April, homecare providers were under increasing pressure across all therapy areas, Busby explains.

“To make it work, we had to work very closely with our partners to see what capacity could be released and how to streamline the way we provided the services: doing certain things digitally, or training patients, for example.”

“Companies like ours were continually working with providers and the NHS to monitor, evaluate and release capacity,” she says, adding that this is ongoing.

Looking to a homely future

In the process of meeting the demands of the crisis, home care has experienced an acceleration in adoption that Busby does not see reversing anytime soon.

“Regardless of COVID-19, the NHS is stretched. But homecare can add value and help ease capacity as we go forward.

“Also, I think you would struggle to get people to go back now they are managing their conditions more independently and they recognise the freedom that gives them.”

She goes on to say that while it had been a challenging year for everyone, she is proud of what she and her team have achieved.

“I am so proud of the way we have been able to work with the NHS to save them hours, money and burden during such an acute crisis,” says Busby.

Although we’ve used homecare for many years, the start of the pandemic saw an immediate demand for more patients on the service. We had to work collaboratively with the homecare providers to ensure they had capacity to take on the increased numbers. As a result, our team has been able to streamline the clinic and increase capacity and the patients are more empowered, feel safer at home and are saving money and time by not coming into the hospital. A win-win for patients, doctors, nurses and pharmacists. – Lillian Cortez, GI Cancer Specialist Pharmacist, Royal Marsden Hospital

Date of prep: December 2020

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