I know from talking to my patients in surgery that they prefer to access health services as close to where they live as possible, so they can fit appointments into their daily lives with as little disruption as possible.
So, in my other role as chair of NHS Doncaster Clinical Commissioning Group, responsible for buying and organising NHS services for local people, I have been keen to press for more to be brought out of local hospitals and provided in community settings where it is safe, practical and efficient to do so.
This week we will see an excellent example of this approach as a new hi-tech way of identifying potentially cancerous skin bumps, such as moles and lesions, is rolled out across GP surgeries in Doncaster
It’s nothing more than a high quality lens that clips onto a standard iPhone to take a detailed image of the skin disorder, but we expect it to save hundreds of Doncaster people from having to be referred to hospital to have it checked out.
There has been a rise in the number of Doncaster people visiting their GP because they are concerned about, for example, a skin mole, resulting in the number of referrals to hospital consultants rising by nearly 40 per cent in the past two years alone. Currently, around 1,000 Doncaster patients a year a referred to hospital by their GP for suspected skin cancer.
In the past, if the GP was unsure if the mole was potentially cancerous, he or she would have made a referral to a local hospital for a diagnosis. But now, using the new tele-dermatology ‘dermascope’, staff at local surgeries can quickly take a photograph of the mole and email the image to specialists at the Mole Clinic, which is 200 miles away in London.
There, experts study the high quality image and provide a diagnosis which they email back to the surgery, within hours, rather than weeks. They determine if the mole is potentially cancerous – in which case the GP will refer the patient straight to hospital – or if it has no risk and they will be advised that they have no need to worry about it.
We have trialled the service in a number of GP practices in the town centre and neighbouring areas and the feedback from patients and health professionals has been really positive, which is why it is being extended to more across the borough.
We expect the new community based tele-dermatology service to quickly identify those conditions that are not dangerous, which will mean that patients can have their fears allayed much quicker and the waiting times for those who really do need to see a skin specialist will reduce.
New technology systems like this have a key role to play in helping the NHS keep pace with the increasing demands placed on services.