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The path to delivering a joined up patient experience - is integrated care the answer?

6 minute read

In 2019 Dr. Nikki Kanani published an article titled ‘collaboration is the way forward'. In the blog, she spoke about the priceless roles of individual care systems such as GPs, CCGs, and mental health support services to name a few. Yet, to be able to provide the best level of care possible we need to utilise the relationships and knowledge of the local area possessed by individual care systems whilst leaning on a wider network that can provide resilience for staff, make use of broader arrays of knowledge and funding and meet the growing and changing needs of patients.  

Dr. Kanani published her thoughts pre-pandemic so it’s needless to say the article’s relevance has only grown with the stretching of NHS facilities to combat coronavirus. However, the concept of integrated care has been working its way into the NHS consciousness from around 2018 onwards.  

Removing the traditional barriers between hospitals and family doctors, physical and mental health practitioners, and the NHS and council services, integrated care systems (ICS) strive to ensure patients and healthcare professionals are receiving the support they need to ultimately deliver a better patient experience.  

The NHS Long Term Plan confirmed that April 2021 would see all parts of England being served by an ICS. With further work needed to cover the whole of the UK, is the system working, and is it the key to delivering a much-needed prioritisation of the patient experience? 

Falling to the wayside in recent years, the patient experience has a huge effect on the recovery of the patient, one that feels supported, in control of their health outcomes, and is as relaxed as can be will witness a more progressive recovery.  

National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) survey asking patients on 33 wards across the country their opinion on the care they received found that 21.7% said they felt there was a lack of communication between staff and between healthcare professionals and their patients. Other findings such as a feeling of staff shortages leading to missed medication, delays in treatment, or food management sat at 13.2% of those surveyed. However, the NIHR notes that 90% of the misdemeanours were ‘probably or definitely avoidable’.  

The overstretched NHS receives these criticisms because of the immeasurable stress it consistently finds itself under. Staff self-isolating due to a positive covid test only exacerbates the increasing staff shortages, acting as the first domino and causing a chain reaction of issues that affect the patient experience and the level of care delivered. This is where utilising ICSs come in.  

By constructing a healthcare community whereby you facilitate the connection, as Dr. Kanani noted in her 2019 article, between those who understand the locale and needs of the individual with the appropriate specialist service, the patient will receive a more streamlined and direct form of care that utilises the wealth of resources the NHS has on offer.  

Collaborations such as this are working across the country, the Humber, Coast and Vale ICS brings together three providers, a mental health lead, a community health, and care lead, and an acute provider, to build a forum ensuring resource sharing across collaboratives. Together the teams work to assist each other in establishing specialised services such as a community diagnostic hub programme, the Ageing Well programme, and targeted mental health services in line with the NHS Long Term Plan.  

“I have witnessed unprecedented collaboration across all partners to help, share and create solutions to problems enabling tens of thousands of consultations to be carried out remotely using digital to help support people right across our ICS area,” says John Skidmore, Digital Lead for the Humber, Coast and Vale Health and Care Partnership. The establishment of the ICS has enabled the Partnership to thrive and remain in control of appointments during recent years’ restrictions but Skidmore notes that it wouldn’t have been possible without the accompanying assistance of digital.  

“This [the pandemic] has challenged our leadership, our culture, and our beliefs about the art of the possible with digital. We have made history every day with the decisions and solutions created and, despite all the huge suffering, we can celebrate the role digital has played in our ICS,” he continues.  

So with all Trusts providing acute or mental health services to be part of one or more ICSs by April 2022, will we see an improvement in the patient experience broadly? The sharing of resources and responsibilities will be key in ensuring patients feel seen and heard but if we are to take the practical knowledge of Humber, Coast, and Vale’s John Skidmore, we should also be utilising digital to combat some of the other issues such as a breakdown in communication leading to confusion and uncertainty.  

Providers such as WiFi SPARK work to eliminate this confusion through a tailored patient engagement platform (PEP). A hub for entertainment, engagement, and education, the PEP bridges the gap between staff and patients giving users access to a wealth of entertainment and resources, such as digital meal ordering, tailored to the individual’s dietary requirements that follow them if a change in ward or circumstance occurs. The platform allows patients to take control of their health outcomes by giving access to the NHS Apps Library and other educational content, all from their own device.  

Aiding the work between Acute Trusts and Mental Health Services, the PEP allows patients, visitors, and staff to access a variety of links promoting personal wellbeing. Whether it be a free video-calling platform without the need to establish an account to keep in touch with loved ones during hospital stays or a welcome rest bite from the hustle and bustle of the ward with digitised magazines or colouring in applications, WiFi SPARK works to develop a platform tailored to your users and your ICS.  

The SPARK® Patient Engagement Platform brings together the needs of staff and patients to drive efficiencies and bolster emotional wellbeing. 

With the NIHR finding that 90% of patient discomfort was avoidable, the future of successful care delivery will see us working within Integrated Care Systems with the support of technology to prioritise the patient experience.  


The breadth of WiFi SPARK’s service offering doesn’t stop there, its signature SPARK® Media platform is helping Trusts across the country to elevate their patient experience. If you’d like to find out more, download the  SPARK® Media brochure below.  

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