Winter resilience: how mobile medical units help relieve hospital pressures
Jo Quarterman, EMS Healthcare’s Divisional Director of Clinical Capacity, looks at the challenges posed by the winter virus season.Jo Quarterman
Published 30 November 2023
Every winter, the NHS, and Health Boards across the country, brace themselves for an influx of demand, and 2023 is no different. With the onset of cold weather and a big rise in acute respiratory infections, demand for services grows, with the elderly and very young the most at risk.
2022 proved particularly challenging for urgent and emergency care systems, which have already endured long-standing capacity issues. According to figures from NHS England, the average bed occupancy was 6.6% higher last year than it was in 2021/22 and more than 20% higher than in 2020/21. To anticipate the obstacles ahead, the NHS started planning earlier, hoping to ease the struggles of healthcare workers facing the same issues year on year.
Released earlier this year, the accident and emergency care recovery plan* outlined health leaders’ ambitions for tackling seasonal challenges. Keeping people out of hospital remains a clear priority but there is little doubt that the number of respiratory illnesses have a huge impact on both capacity and budgets.
Mobile respiratory hubs
Using a mobile acute respiratory infection (ARI) hub creates additional capacity and convenient access to care – and the good news is that hubs of this nature are making a difference. At EMS Healthcare, we worked in partnership with Procare Health Limited, a GP federation of 19 practices in Surrey, by providing a mobile ARI hub.
Deployed within just 10 days, the unit delivered more than 1,000 appointments over a 12-week period, helping to increase appointment capacity, and reducing the burden on GP surgeries.
Jane Fagan, Chief Operating Officer at Procare Health, said: “Using a mobile respiratory hub has enabled us to access the heart of communities and offer additional on-the-day appointments. Patients can come on board and receive an excellent clinical experience for early diagnosis and appropriate treatment, which helps to ease pressure on primary care and busy GP surgeries across the region.”
From December 2022 to March 2023, figures shared by the NHS show that nearly 730,000 people were seen in an ARI hub. Without a hub, it is estimated that up to half the patients seen would have gone to an emergency department, with the remainder attending general practice. A survey of providers highlights the positive impact that ARI hubs have had:
- 87% agree/strongly agree that ARI hubs improved same day access to urgent care
- 83% agree/strongly agree that ARI hubs reduced pressures on primary care
- 61% agree/strongly agree that ARI hubs reduced pressures on attendance at accident and emergency departments
Mobile diagnosis provides accessibility and convenience
EMS Healthcare have also supported Respiratory Innovation Wales in delivering a mobile diagnostic centre, enabling Welsh respiratory patients to access vital diagnostic and screening examinations, due to a post-COVID backlog. The aim was to offer an increase in convenience for patients across the country and, ultimately, an assessment on whether a similar model could be used as a foundation for other diagnostic provision.
This initiative was essential because one in 12 people in Wales has a respiratory illness and respiratory disease is now the country’s leading cause of ill health (36%). Wales also has the highest prevalence of asthma in Europe.
Dr Philip Webb, Chief Executive of Respiratory Innovation Wales, said: “Mobile units give us the ability to interact with our patient population within areas that are convenient for them and, particularly post-pandemic, it removes the anxiety of going to a hospital, with mobile units encouraging patients to be more comfortable and assured in accessing care closer to home and outside a hospital environment.”
Results from the use of the unit have been positive, with a significant impact on acute care and emergency admissions. A detailed report on the use of a respiratory mobile clinic has now been submitted to the Welsh government for consideration.
Vaccinations in the heart of communities
Our mobile vaccination clinics can support with taking services directly into the heart of communities. We are proud to be supporting NHS Trusts, Health Boards, and other healthcare providers across the UK, to reach those who are eligible for their winter vaccinations, with a particular focus this winter on COVID and flu jabs.
Earlier this year, we deployed a mobile vaccination clinic in record time. Delivering a unit in less than 24 hours was critical in ensuring Fylde Coast Medical Services (FCMS) could provide planned vaccination clinics throughout Blackpool, at a time of significant pressure on hospital capacity.
Amanda Ardron, Head of Business Development and Collaboration at Fylde Coast Medical Services said: “EMS Healthcare were incredible in our hour of need. Within 24 hours of calling them, we had a mobile unit heading to Blackpool, to support our vaccination campaign.”
This month, we bolstered Swansea Bay University Health Board’s vaccination capacity, as part of their winter immunisation programme by providing a mobile unit, helping to reduce the strain on frontline services between now and April 2024. This followed the deployment of a vaccination clinic to community settings in and around Barnstaple in Devon, in partnership with the Royal Devon University Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.
The mobile clinic was used as a model by the Trust last year and returned successfully for the autumn 2023 vaccination campaign.
In conjunction with our ongoing support for Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and Locala Health and Wellbeing community services across the north of England, we are rolling out vaccinations and other health services in areas that need them the most – taking full advantage of the key benefits of a mobile solution:
- Accessibility: addressing health inequalities by offering convenient appointments in accessible locations and improving access to services
- Reach: engaging with hard-to-reach cohorts and offering COVID-19 and flu vaccinations
- Flexibility: scaling up to meet clinical demand during the winter months
Learn more about how you can bring care into the community, and make a difference in 2024: https://www.ems-healthcare.com/clinical-capacity/
*Source: NHS Confederation, June 2023