by Aman Kundraw

BLOG-IMAGE-Thurrock CCG

Online consulting – the CCG perspective

Jeanette Hucey is Director of Transformation for Thurrock CCG. Here, she talks about the value of online consulting and how it can help CCGs support the development of primary care in their areas

Jeanette Hucey is overseeing a seven-practice pilot that will deliver electronic consulting coverage for over 46,000 patients in Thurrock. The move is part of Thurrock CCG’s transformation programme and the aim is to prove that electronic consulting can help support the area’s capacity gap around primary care: “We have a serious lack of GPs,” says Jeanette. “We want to show that this is a way of enabling people to access the services they need, and to support people on the ground to manage the demand.”

“This is a way of enabling people to access the services they need, and to support people on the ground to manage the demand.”

Four GPs on Thurrock’s CCG board are very keen to begin the trial, which starts on 1st April. “We have a wider transformation group which is looking to wrap services around our population in each of our four localities,” continues Jeanette. “We want to prove the concept and show that electronic consulting does support GPs by helping to shift behaviours around how people use the health service and giving them really good access to information and self-help advice.”

The six-month pilot takes place in Tilbury – an area with high deprivation where, Jeanette believes, “if we can get it right and get it working there, we can get it working anywhere in the patch.” To help with access, Thurrock will also be working with Public Health England, which runs community hubs at local libraries. Jeanette believes they will be an important part of the patient communication and education programme that supports the pilot. “We hope to use the hubs as a place where people can be taught how to use the technology, and where they can go online to use it if need be.”

Experience counts

Jeanette is an advocate of online consulting, having worked with a neighbouring CCG, Basildon & Brentwood, to introduce a pilot with eConsult some three years ago. “I tried to get a joint bid together for some Transformation Fund money but Thurrock CCG did not come in at that point as they had other priorities around introducing Thurrock Health Hubs, for which they made a successful bid. We did introduce eConsult across 37 of the 44 practices in Basildon & Brentwood, however, and some of the GPs really liked it. Around 50 per cent of the initial pilot practices still use it.

“The funding was for seven years, which is a good amount of time to enable a thorough assessment. One of the lessons we learned was that it’s important to get patient interest, do your marketing and undertake practice training well ahead of the rollout. You also need regular contact to make sure the system is running smoothly, and it’s crucial to share feedback and best practice across the pilot.”

Meeting objectives

Jeanette is conscious not just of the CCG perspective but the wider STP take on the issue of how effective online consulting can be in meeting STPs’ headline objectives of improving quality and developing new models of care, improving health and wellbeing, and improving efficiency of services. Arguably online consulting addresses all three, but competition for resources is fierce.

“I know that our STP is looking at various different offers at the moment – although some would cost millions to implement and we just couldn’t stretch to that. When it comes to eConsult, we do have uptake in neighbouring CCGs – Castle Point Rochford has around 25 per cent of practices running it, so it’s a known quantity. We just need to get some reliably good evidence around the benefits and learn from past experiences to sell it to those who aren’t already using it. If we’re able to do that, there is an opportunity to gain wider STP interest.”

Discussing the challenges in achieving cost savings and ensuring service delivery with dwindling resources, Jeanette acknowledges that there are a lot of priorities on a CCG’s improvement agenda, and this might have led to online consultation slipping down the ‘to do’ list for Thurrock. “From our point of view, the biggest selling point is the six-month trial and the level of support that eConsult offered. I am not sure I’d have achieved GP sign-up if the eConsult team did not offer the level of support that they have,” she says. “It helped that I already have positive experience of the difference that a good online consultation system can make.”

“I already have positive experience of the difference that a good online consultation system can make.”

Jeanette believes the case for online consultation is compelling, particularly with future developments in the pipeline such as apps for managing long-term health conditions and added options for differing operational models. “We do know that there will be moneys coming on stream soon from the GP Forward View, so the timing of this pilot is ideal. If we can prove the concept it puts us in a great position to build a case with the evidence that we have gathered.”