Study finds Northern Care Alliance NHS Foundation Trust’s use of Bleepa reduced inpatient referral times by 75%
One of England’s largest NHS providers has seen a dramatic reduction in clinical response times since it digitised paper-based referral systems across a range of key specialties, according to an independent review.
The study, which examined Northern Care Alliance NHS Foundation Trust’s use of clinical communications platform, Bleepa, to manage inpatient referrals, identified a reduction of almost 75% in average referral times across three clinical specialties when compared to previous paper-based systems.
Bleepa referral data from July 2021 to April 2023, covering 10,000 patient referrals, found the average time from submission of a referral to first review across the trust’s respiratory, cardiology, and gastroenterology specialisms at specific hospital sites was 0.55 days.
This was a reduction of 1.55 days compared to the 2.1-day average timelag recorded before the platform’s deployment across parts of the Greater Manchester trust.
The real-world evaluation, commissioned by Bleepa creator, Feedback Medical, and carried out by specialist consultancy, Unity Insights, used quantitative data from two Northern Care Alliance trust sites – the Royal Oldham Hospital and Fairfield General Hospital in Bury – to examine the impact that Bleepa could have at a hospital, trust and Integrated Care System (ICS) level.
The review also estimates that the collected time savings from faster referrals, efficient clinical messaging, and reduced length of stay for patients from Northern Care Alliance’s use of Bleepa could unlock savings of £819,000 (net of the cost of Bleepa) over the next five years.
And, if effectively adopted across the whole Greater Manchester ICB footprint, it could free up £7.7m in savings over the same period, according to Unity Insight’s economic modelling.
The evaluation report, published this week, also identified a raft of staff benefits, based on a series of surveys and indepth interviews with clinical teams within the trust’s respiratory, cardiology, and gastroenterology specialisms who have been using Bleepa to manage their referrals since 2019.
They include the following:
The review’s publication comes as the health and care sector voices renewed concern over the extent to which trusts across England are still relying on paper-based systems for managing patient records and prescribing.
The negative impacts of these practices on both patient safety and clinical efficiency have been highlighted with the publication of a survey in the British Medical Journal last month revealing that three quarters of trusts are still reliant on paper notes and drug charts.
And these findings come despite Care Quality Commission guidance that encourages trusts to give staff the digital tools they need to be able to do their work more efficiently.
It is incredibly humbling to receive this validation of the benefits of Bleepa in these real-world settings and to see the impact that our technology is having
Elsewhere, paper-based inpatient referrals between clinical specialties, and the miscommunication they produce, has previously been found to be responsible for just over a third of delays, which needlessly increase patient length of stay by 1.6 days.
As a result, many clinicians are turning to WhatsApp as a bypass for ineffective paper based working, a practice that breaches many GDPR and NHS data requirements.
The Information Commissioner’s Office has recently reprimanded an NHS trust over unauthorised staff use of WhatsApp to share patient data, highlighting non-compliance with data protection laws over such highly sensitive information.
Describing the impact that using Bleepa has had on clinical performance, Georges Ng Man Kwong, chief clinical information officer (Bury, Rochdale and Oldham) at Northern Care Alliance, said: “Access to the images with the referral has been really key.
“We worked with the Bleepa team to make sure we had a minimum data set for referral data and this was particularly important during the COVID pandemic.
We all know that helping the health and care system clear elective care backlogs is a top priority at the moment, so getting greater insight into how Bleepa speeds up referrals and improves clinical communication across key specialties helps us to evidence the many ways in which we can help our customers to deliver for their staff and patients
“We’ve also found it good in terms of asynchronous working – we don’t necessarily have to traipse around the hospital with a list of patients to see referrals, we can manage them remotely.
“And we are then able to message the team with clear instructions as to what’s been going on.
“The secure messaging has allowed us to progress patient care in a faster way.”
Feedback Medical chief executive, Dr Tom Oakley, added: “It is incredibly humbling to receive this validation of the benefits of Bleepa in these real-world settings and to see the impact that our technology is having.
“We all know that helping the health and care system clear elective care backlogs is a top priority at the moment, so getting greater insight into how Bleepa speeds up referrals and improves clinical communication across key specialties helps us to evidence the many ways in which we can help our customers to deliver for their staff and patients.
“The outcomes illustrated are testament to the great work our team does day in, day out to make the platform the most-effective tool it can be for our clinical colleagues.”