Consultant Connect is enabling GPs at the borough’s 43 practices to ring hospital specialists at Doncaster Royal Infirmary (DRI) for immediate advice about how to manage a patient’s condition, often while the patient is still in the consulting room.
They use a dedicated phone system which bypasses the main switchboard and ‘hunts’ across a number of phones in a department, automatically moving along if it reaches one that is either engaged or rings out for more than 20 seconds.
Research suggests that GPs wait around one minute to reach a consultant and the average call lasts around four minutes - a big time-saver compared to writing and waiting for a reply.
“It helps us to make a good judgement on whether or not to refer a patient to hospital,” says Dr Stephanie Teanby-Clark, a GP at Askern’s Lakeside Practice.
“I recently contacted one of the chest physicians at DRI about a patient who is in her 90s and has breathing problems. The fast response I was given on how to manage her symptoms meant I was able to continue looking after her at home, which is what she wants, rather than sending her to hospital.
“Nobody wants to be referred to hospital only for the consultant to say that their GP is the best person to manage their care. If the best course of action can be determined through a quick phone call it’s more efficient for the NHS and more convenient for the patient.”
Colleague Dr Patricia Marquez Mezquita agrees, adding: “A patient recently came to see me with hip pain and I was able to talk to an orthopaedic consultant about the symptoms and the best way of caring for them. The consultant said he wanted to see the patient which, importantly, shows the value of this service in ensuring appropriate referrals to hospital.”
The service launched in Summer 2017 and since then has been progressively rolled out across seven specialty areas – paediatrics; orthopaedics; care of the elderly; ear, nose and throat; respiratory, haematology and acute medicine. Two more - urology and ophthalmology – are joining by the end of January.
Crucially, reducing the number of unnecessary hospital appointments is freeing up more time for consultants to spend on the patients who need their experts. Dr Andrew Oates, consultant geriatrician at Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “It’s an excellent system. Local GPs have contacted me with specific questions about patient care and this has helped avoid unnecessary referrals to hospital.
“Hospital is not always the best place to care for elderly people; we try to support their care at home where possible. That’s why it’s very useful to have this opportunity to talk through a patient’s condition with their GP first to determine whether they need to be admitted.”
Consultant Connect CEO Jonathan Patrick said: “We hope our telephone advice and guidance service will bring as big a benefit to patients in Doncaster as it has to the 1,600 GP surgeries which already use it. It is great to see local consultants and GPs working together to provide the best possible care for patients, from their first appointment onwards.”