HOSPITALS as we know them will become a thing of the past ‘over the course of the next decade’, with patients being treated at home, at the scene of an accident, over the phone, or via Skype, Eric Topol, an American cardiologist and Tory Health Secretary Hunt’s top advisor said yesterday.
In what has been dubbed a ‘technological revolution’ thousands of patients would receive advice over the phone, known as ‘hear and treat’, or at the scene of an accident by a paramedic, known as ‘see and treat’. Topol said: ‘You can just imagine the implications on the workforce over time, because you don’t need the staff of a hospital. It’s so expensive to support hospitals, it’s so labour intensive and so much of that can be taken over by technology – and it will be.’
This is just what the doctor ordered as far as Tory Health Secretary Hunt is concerned. He has already embarked on the biggest A&E, maternity and children’s ward closure plan in the history of the NHS, and has now begun closing entire hospitals down.
BMA member Anna Athow said: ‘These claims by American geneticist Eric Topol, are dangerous nonsense. ‘We heard this all in the mid-1990s when the Labour government paid out £12bn to private IT corporations for non-functional IT systems, a massive waste.
‘It is a plan to shift millions of patients out of hospital and into their own homes, to be electronically monitored. ‘For the last 20 years community hospitals and nursing homes have been continually run down so that they are almost non-existent. ‘This proposal is a recipe for closing even more District General Hospitals at a time when we desperately need them to stay open, with more beds and be properly staffed and funded.’
The London Ambulance Service says that it wants to slash the number of patients it sends to A&E, instead treating as many as half of them at the scene of the accident, using iPads to access patient records. The plan is that paramedics would share photographs of the patient via the internet or hold video consultations with colleagues based in ‘clinical hubs’ in the control room.
Malcolm Alexander, chairman of the LAS Patients’ Forum, said: ‘This is undoubtedly a fine aspiration but it doesn’t seem to be based on reality. ‘If you have an 80-year-old who has fallen but not broken her hip, the idea is that the paramedic will be able to phone up someone who will provide alternative care. Without evidence that there is an alternative system available, there are considerable risks to patient safety.’
Meanwhile, responding to end-of-year financial performance data for the NHS provider sector published yesterday, British Medical Association (BMA) council chair, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said: ‘Today’s figures are a stark warning about the escalating service pressures and financial crisis taking hold of the NHS. ‘This reflects what doctors are saying on the ground – that there is insufficient capacity coupled with record levels of demand, resulting in a deficit worse than expected.
‘It’s time for politicians to act – the NHS urgently needs more funding to halt its decline and put the health service on a sustainable footing for the future.’
Unison deputy head of health Helga Pile said: ‘Under pressure, underfunded and understaffed – the NHS is caught between a rock and a hard place. ‘While the number of people using the NHS has sky- rocketed, staff vacancies are at record levels and funding remains elusive. ‘The government needs to stop dithering and in-fighting, and commit to the funding increases that the NHS so desperately needs.’