Dr Mark Hamilton, Surrey Heartlands Academy Clinical Director

On any one day, NHS-related journeys account for 5% of road traffic in England; a quarter of doctors say 10-20% of their new patients didn’t need to have attended an outpatient clinic; and 28% of doctors say 10-20% of their follow up patients could have been seen using an alternative to face-to-face consultation. It’s no wonder then that the traditional one-model-fits-all approach to outpatient care is not able to keep up with growing demand and fails to minimise disruption to patient lives.

That’s why, on behalf of the Surrey Heartlands Academy, I was delighted to welcome Professor Andrew Goddard, President of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), to meet local clinicians at a recent event to discuss the future of outpatient care.

Outpatient care represents the largest proportion of NHS contact with the public

in a hospital setting and the number of appointments almost doubled between 2007 and 2017.  Professor Goddard has written a report where he tries to re-evaluate the purpose of outpatient care against modern-day expectations and how we might harness modern technology as a key element in redesigning outpatient care.  There is the opportunity for traditional appointments to be replaced or augmented by remote monitoring, phone or video-line appointments. 

 “It’s obvious to me that the system isn’t working anywhere near as well as it should,” Professor Goddard told clinicians.

Professor Goddard was joined by John Dean, Clinical Director at the RCP, and Peter Wilkinson, Consultant Cardiologist at Ashford & St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, who spoke about how we [Surrey Heartlands] are collaborating with The Royal College of Physicians and The Royal Academy of Engineering. This is about applying a systems engineering approach to improving health and care, putting people at the centre of the project and examining the needs that must be addressed, to design a solution.

Peter Wilkinson referred to a quote in the British Medical Journal from Senior Editor Dr Tessa Richards in June 2018, which seems to sum up the current situation quite well: “I owe my life to the NHS, so it seems churlish to criticise it.  But when it comes to outpatients I can’t restrain myself.  In a digital age that provides a range of options for consultation other than face-to-face in hospital clinics there is surely little justification to perpetuate an inflexible old model.

I look forward to seeing what comes from our collaboration with The Royal College of Physicians and The Royal Academy of Engineering.  Surrey Heartlands and its partner organisations have a unique opportunity to transform the way we work to better serve those who traditionally visit our hospitals as outpatients.

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) plays a leading role in the delivery of high-quality patient care by setting standards of medical practice and promoting clinical excellence.

The Surrey Heartlands Academy is a virtual network which supports clinicians with the adoption and spread of innovation and best practice.