NHS England abandons health secretary's pledge on telehealth

NHS England has abandoned the health secretary's ambition to see 100,000 patients in seven 'pathfinder' areas benefit from telehealth in 2013.

Jeremy Hunt's telehealth vision has been 'radically overhauled' by NHS England
Jeremy Hunt's telehealth vision has been 'radically overhauled' by NHS England

A plan to develop seven ‘pathfinder’ sites to lead the widespread adoption of telehealth in England has been scrapped and replaced with a new scheme after progress stalled in mid-2013.

NHS England will instead promote a wider suite of telehealth services in areas where ‘energy already exists’ for the technologies.

It said the original plan set out by ministers less than two years ago was ‘no longer the right model for delivery’.

The 3millionlives programme aims to achieve adoption of telehealth and telecare services by 3m patients by 2017.

Last November, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said 100,000 patients across seven pathfinder areas would benefit from telehealth in 2013.

However, a recent investigation by GP found just 2,368 patients were actively using the health-monitoring devices across 26 pathfinder CCGs in September.

Doubts have also emerged over the evidence for the technologies, after studies of the DH-backed Whole System Demonstrator trial showed mixed results.

NHS England took control of the programme in April and immediately ordered an internal review into its progress.

This has led NHS England to abandon the original focus on seven pathfinder sites, and therefore the ambition to roll out services to 100,000 patients in these areas.

An NHS England spokeswoman said: ‘The expectation of 100,000 patients benefiting from telehealth by the end of 2013 was intended as an ambition rather than a target, and was based on the old "pathfinder" delivery model introduced under [the] DH in 2012.’

She said that after taking control of the programme following the NHS reorganisation, NHS England ‘has recognised and acknowledged that focusing solely on the seven originally identified pathfinder sites is no longer the right model for delivery – a view shared unanimously by our stakeholders’.

‘We have therefore, with their help, radically overhauled the delivery model, moving to a model where we focus on where energy already exists locally for delivery of 3millionlives, so that we can harness it and build upon it.

‘In light of this, this we are identifying a new and rigorous set of metrics for 3millionlives, which will form an integral part of the 3millionlives delivery plan for 2014-17.’

She said the internal review had concluded that the new model must take a less siloed approach. NHS England will continue to aim for 3m patients to benefit from telehealth services by 2017.

It has also established a new interest group, the Integrated Care for 3millionlives Stakeholder Forum, which now includes a range of stakeholders such as local commissioners and social care representatives.

In a recent speech, Rachel Cashman, head of collaboration for excellence at NHS England, said the 3millionlives programme would focus on 'a much broader range of assistive technologies', including telehealth, telecare, telemedicine and telecoaching.

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