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A new scheme to treat people earlier for flu and chest infections has avoided 17,000 nights in hospital and saved the NHS £7 million a year.

The iCares scheme, which has been rolled out in the Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust flags patients with long-term conditions who are at high risk of hospital admission. Patients or carers can call a number if they need help, where they are assessed and then seen in as little as three hours by a team of 100 staff dedicated to hospital avoidance.

The scheme was set up five years ago by Ruth Williams, Director of Nursing and Quality at NHS England, Wessex. She said; “What we’ve done is make the system simpler: one phone number….one team which works together and navigates the system for the patient, keeping 93% of urgent cases out of hospital.

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, patients were coping at home until they needed to be admitted to hospital. Figures show the scheme has reduced hospital admissions by 2,478 a year, reduced the length of stays in A&E, reduced readmission rates, and reduced the length of stays in hospital from 10 to seven days. Money saved from this scheme will also be reinvested back into patient care.

The scheme brought people from three teams under one roof and consolidated 16 different points of access to care. Staff work in neighbourhood teams, and the teams are made up of physiotherapists, occupational therapists, advanced care practitioners (ACPs), community matrons, nurses, speech and language therapist, and more. ACPs can write prescriptions, whilst other staff can perform duties such as organising extra equipment to help people manage safely at home.

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