Column: Shorter waiting times are on the cards
It's good to talk and this week marks the launch of a new scheme that will see local GPs and specialist consultants talking to each other more to avoid Doncaster patients making unnecessary visits to hospital.
Consultant Connect is a simple new telecommunications system that will provide GPs like me with immediate access to telephone based advice from specialist teams at Doncaster Royal Infirmary and Bassetlaw hospitals, connecting with them directly rather than having to go via switchboards and bleeps.
Initially, the scheme will provide advice from consultants involved in orthopaedic, respiratory and elderly care on weekdays, from 9am to 5pm, but the aim is to roll it out to cover other specialities in due course.
So how will it work? If a patient comes to see me with a particular problem that I need some specialist advice about, I will be able to talk to a consultant there and then to see if a referral is necessary. The benefit is that I will be able to include the patient in the discussion, so it becomes a much better way of managing their care and the conversations are recorded for clinical purposes.
It’s simple to operate and I just have one telephone number to ring that gives me access to the different specialities. Each specialist is given 20 seconds to answer my call – usually on their mobile phone - but if they are not in a position to take it, it automatically loops to the next in line and so on until my call is answered.
This quick access to advice will benefit patients in terms of improving the speed of diagnosis and treatment, but it will also help make better use of NHS resources. If the consultant doesn’t think there is any need for a referral, they will be able to explain why and the patient will then be told the reasons why.
Importantly, it means the patient won’t need to go to a hospital outpatient appointment in a few weeks’ time only to be given the same information. It will also enable me to start planning the care that I can provide for them at my GP practice.
Historically, reaching a busy hospital consultant by landline has been difficult but this new technology will enable GPs like me to connect directly to a ‘rota’ of consultants within a very short space of time.
Consultant Connect is currently successfully operating in nearly 40 geographical areas across the country, managing around 1,000 calls a week. The average connection time is less than 50 seconds and the average discussion time between GP and consultant is just under four minutes.
In short, the scheme should speed up waiting times for those patients who need to see a consultant and provide a faster diagnosis for those who don’t.