Labour MP calls for more evidence on potential telehealth savings


Shadow Health Minister, Andrew Gwynne, urges Department of Health to publish calculations behind £1.2billion savings claim

Claims by the Department of Health (DH) that the widespread deployment of telehealth systems could save the NHS in excess of £1.2billion continue to be challenged after a Labour MP called for more evidence.

Speaking after attending the recent EHI Live 2012 conference, Shadow Health Minister, Andrew Gwynne, is demanding the Government publishes the detail behind its calculations before spending huge amounts of taxpayers’ money rolling out assistive technology systems, particularly as GPs appear unexcited about the impact of the interventions.

It’s a no-brainer. Telehealth is here and I think the benefit to healthcare in the UK is potentially massive

Gwynne told the conference: “That information should be put into the public domain so that GPs can see the financial benefits for themselves.”

And he said he would table some parliamentary questions on the issue to get the information into the public domain.

“I personally think it’s a no-brainer,” he said. “Telehealth is here and I think the benefit to healthcare in the UK is potentially massive.”

His call followed earlier comments by Jeremy Nettle, chairman of Intellect UK, which represents the healthcare supplier community, voicing fears about the apparent lack of enthusiasm for telehealth solutions exhibited by primary care practitioners.

He said: “All of us [suppliers] are taking a punt on this. We all believe this is the way forward, but if the one major group, the GPs, doesn’t believe in this, are we barking up the wrong tree?”

The Government is hoping to deliver telehealth technology to three million people as part of a campaign to improve the management of long-term conditions. The move follows the publication, earlier this year, of the results of the Whole System Demonstrator (WSD), the world’s largest randomised controlled trial of telehealth devices. It revealed that telehealth could help reduce A&E visits among those with long-term conditions by 15%, reduce emergency hospital admissions by 20%, and reduce elective admissions by 14%. More importantly, the trial, which involved 6,000 people over three UK sites, recorded a 45% drop in mortality rates and constituted an 8% reduction in tariff cost.

The information should be put into the public domain so that GPs can see the financial benefits for themselves

Commenting on these figures, the then Health Minister, Paul Burstow, said: “The widespread adoption of telehealth and telecare as part of an integrated care plan will mean better quality of care and greater independence for people with long-term conditions. Delivered from the frontline it could save the NHS up to £1.2billion over five years.”

The DH later announced its 3millionlives campaign, which would roll out assistive technologies to three million patients across the country.

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However, the plan came under scrutiny when independent analysis of the WSD results by The Nuffield Trust revealed that while there was a ‘significant’ impact on hospital admissions and mortality rates among patients using telehealth systems, there was apparently no major impact on the cost of treatment. This calls into question the claims of multi-million pound savings.