As with all areas of health and social care in Northamptonshire, elective (planned) care continues to face challenges related to the impact of COVID-19.

As a health and care system we are working collaboratively to support and manage this effort by bringing together colleagues from primary care, the independent sector, our acute hospitals, NHFT, EMAS, the CCG and NHS England and NHS Improvement. Throughout the pandemic this collaborative group of leaders has provided a collective system approach to continuing elective care for patients.

Colleagues across the system have worked together to maximise use of available elective care capacity within the county, prioritising patients and sharing capacity where possible. The independent sector has supported both hospitals with capacity and sharing staff.

A ‘Referral Assessment Service’ has been introduced to support communication between GPs and hospital consultants by enabling consultants to review patients prior to seeing them in outpatient clinics. This means consultants can triage and provide direct feedback to GPs on best options of care for patients. As a system we have come together to manage the rollout of this new service in Northamptonshire, making refinements to ensure it meets the needs of patients and colleagues across the health system.

Outpatient clinics are currently still being delivered. To reduce the number of patients needing to physically attend appointments on site, the system has been working to maximise the use of remote appointments where possible. This has been achieved through the use of more telephone appointments and the development of other solutions such as video calls. This work has been supported throughout by primary care colleagues, with GPs sharing the valuable learning and experience they have developed through delivering care virtually.

In diagnostics there have been good examples of close working and activity sharing across the health and care system. IT solutions are also being used to assist radiologists, for example, with the implementation of home reporting workstations enabling staff who are shielding to work report on imaging remotely.

Learning from the system-based approach taken for elective care throughout the pandemic will inform the development of a new Northamptonshire Elective Hub, which will be used to coordinate elective capacity across the Northamptonshire and ensuring it is used as efficiently as possible based on clinical need.

The development of an Elective Hub will also link into NHS England and NHS Improvement’s national ‘Getting It Right First Time’ (GIRFT) programme, of which Northamptonshire is in the initial tranche of health systems nationally. This will cover both our acute and independent sector hospitals and will initially focus on ophthalmology, orthopaedics and ear, nose and throat.

GIRFT is led by frontline clinicians within these specialties and aims to tackle variations in the way services are delivered across the NHS, identifying changes that will help improve care and patient outcomes.