iCares pilot scheme saves £7m in NHS costs

A scheme underway in Sandwell in the West Midlands has proven hugely successful for patients with long-term conditions, while saving the NHS millions

According to BT News, a concept which is being piloted in Sandwell has enabled the NHS to avoid £7m in costs – money which can be poured back into patient care – and saved patients 17,000 nights in hospital.

The system is called iCares, and it works by flagging those in the area with long-term conditions, who are at high risk of being admitted to hospital, to a 100-strong team which ensures they are seen as early as possible.

Due to difficulty securing GP and other primary care appointments, or attending them, these patients would often have to remain at home until it became necessary to admit them to hospital – now, they have an iCares number to call which gives them the opportunity to be seen quickly and avoid hospital altogether.

The scheme has, thus far, reduced admissions by 2,478 per year. A massive 93% of patients using iCares have been able to stay in the community.

Issues that a patient would normally visit a GP for – such as a UTI, chest infection, cold or flu – can all have a devastating affect on somebody with a long-term illness. The healthcare team – which is composed of professionals from all over the sector – can examine the service users and provide treatment, equipment and prescribe medications. In short, all aspects of primary care can be accessed via one source.

Ruth Williams, clinical directorate lead at Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals, set up the iCares scheme five years ago after she realised how difficult it was for patients to navigate the healthcare system. She created a consolidated system that brought together 16 points of access to care, placing teams where they were needed based on patient locations.

“iCares is based on need and not diagnosis,” said Williams.

“If a patient has a long-term condition and develops an infection, for example, it could stop them swallowing or walking and that would make them housebound and unable to cope at home.

“Previously, the small team of three people saw urgent cases as well as possible at home but the patients they couldn’t see were admitted to hospital.

“What we’ve done is make the system simpler: one phone number that everyone can ring and one team which works together and navigates the system for the patient, keeping 93% of urgent cases out of hospital.

“Most importantly of all, people only have to tell their story once.”

NHS England national clinical adviser for primary care, Dr Karen Kirkham, added:

“As we develop a 10-year plan for the NHS it is innovative schemes like this that are showing how practical new ways of working can help patients live better lives and also deliver efficiencies for health organisations to reinvest.”

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