The beginning of 2021 has been one of the most demanding periods of the pandemic so far, with more people in hospital with COVID-19 than in the first wave, and primary and community services rapidly mobilising to deliver a vaccine programme of unprecedented speed and scale.
Our role as an academic health science partnership during these times of crisis is to harness our networks and expertise across research, innovation and education to support NHS partners to provide the best care possible in challenging circumstances. Sometimes this is about responding to requests from partners to provide ‘headspace’, advice and extra pairs of hands to rapidly implement new pathways and technologies. Other times it is about identifying a need and stepping in proactively to offer a new solution. Our clinical staff continue to offer their support in front line services.
Our AHSC partners continue with crucial research projects to help our understanding of COVID-19 and inform our approach to vaccination. This includes recent research into the impact on BAME communities by AHSC members Queen Mary University of London and Barts Health NHS Trust. NHIR UCLH Biomedical Research Centre and UCLH Research Directorate have opened a new vaccine research centre with two clinical trials testing a long-acting antibody combination treatment to protect against Covid-19.
Our AHSN priority areas
Recognising the urgency of the current situation, we are focusing the efforts of our AHSN staff team on delivering three priority areas in the first part of 2021.
- COVID Oximetry @home and COVID Virtual Wards COVID Oximetry @home is a primary-care-based pathway using pulse oximeters for patients at risk to safely self-monitor their condition at home and escalate if their oxygen saturations fall. The COVID Virtual Ward model is a secondary-care-led initiative to support early discharge from hospital for COVID patients who require hospital follow-up but can be safely cared for at home. Both interventions are designed to ensure the right level of care for patients while reducing levels of demand on pressurised services wherever possible. We are supporting the rapid roll out of both models across our region, ensuring alignment of pathways across systems and cascading information and emerging best practice to teams rapidly.
- Proactive Care Frameworks – Restoring care in cardiovascular (CVD) and respiratory conditions Since the start of the pandemic, proactive care for people with long-term conditions has become much more difficult, with most care remote, and pathways disrupted. We have developed a series of proactive care frameworks to help restore long-term condition care in cardiovascular (including diabetes) and respiratory conditions. These help primary care to prioritise patients at high risk and to optimise management. The frameworks include stratification tools, pathways and embedded technology to support remote care and self-care, together with workforce training and other resources. The frameworks are being rolled out across all primary care networks in Northcentral London and Northeast London to build resilience in patients at high risk of COVID and to reduce demand resulting from poorly managed long-term conditions – including admissions for heart attack, stroke, heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma.
- UNI-LINK Programme – linking students with mental health needs to effective treatment. The UCL COVID-19 Social Study showed that the pandemic hit the 18-25 demographic hardest during the first lockdown in terms of their wellbeing. Unlike previously, during this lockdown students have been explicitly told to stay away from campus, but even if they are at university, they are without the social support of other students. We are supporting universities to e-triage and facilitate self-referrals to appropriate IAPT services. Working with Student Support and Wellbeing staff, we are creating a protocol for connecting students with appropriate mental health support, faster, and with far less NHS resources required both in primary and acute care.
Meeting the huge challenges of providing care both to COVID patients and those with other acute and long-term conditions during a pandemic requires a new level of responsiveness and joint working across our health and care system. Through focusing on the priority areas of need outlined here, we aim to provide targeted support in three areas where there is an urgent need to develop new pathways and frameworks to enable responsive care in a time of extraordinary pressure on the system.
If you would like to find out more about these programmes of work, please get in touch. We will continue to assess how we can support the response to the pandemic as needs continue to evolve and develop.