People in Aberdeenshire are being urged to Skype their doctor this Christmas – to help relieve the pressure on overstretched medics.
NHS Grampian has unveiled its biggest and most ambitious plan yet to get people through the coldest months, including patients using technology instead of taking up precious appointments and hospital spaces.
The health board’s Winter Plan 2015-16 has also identified 18 beds across Aberdeenshire for older patients waiting for residential places or care at home to try to ease the region’s bed-blocking crisis.
Today, board members will be asked to sign-off the detailed blueprint, which will ensure workers are as “prepared as possible” for the “challenging” months ahead.
Officials said NHS Grampian could not afford a repeat of last winter, when the system experienced unprecedented and “significant” pressures.
Emergencies and admissions were up despite the mild weather, more people were stuck in hospital beds than ever before and waits in accident and emergency were at an all-time high.
In a report to the board, officials admit it is difficult to “flex” the system with no extra funding to meet the additional challenges the colder months bring.
But it says the new plan will ensure medical facilities are safer than ever before.
Preparations have been under way for months to ensure staff are ready for the festive season, including drawing-up frontline staff rotas by the end of October and making sure sufficient members of staff would be employed in time.
A new post was even put in place at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary (ARI) in February to focus on how to manage patient flow at the site and prepare for the winter months.
If approved today, the plan will be submitted to the Scottish Government, which has asked health boards to ensure they can cope with peaks of activity without postponing planned operations.
As part of the Winter Plan patients across Aberdeenshire will be encouraged to use technology such as Skype and Facetime to communicate with medics.
A home care responder team will also be in place to conduct “rapid reviews” of people to avoid deterioration and the need for hospital admission.
Meanwhile, 36 extra beds have been identified across Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire for patients waiting for residential places or care at home.
The same planning has produced a contingency proposal for 16 beds at ARI and six beds at Dr Gray’s in Elgin.
Meanwhile, in Moray, officials are investing in extra staffing in their community hospitals, and some primary care practices across Grampian will make additional appointments available.
Daily “safety huddles” will take place in hospitals early every morning involving about 60 individuals from all disciplines, including the ambulance service, to map out care plans for patients.
A “discharge hub” has also been established in ARI to focus on patients who should be prioritised for release.
The move is being made after 34,496 bed days were lost for “non-complex” cases between November last year and March this year – compared with 24,968 in the same period the year before.
From November 2011 to March 2012, there were just 10,692 bed days lost.
A £2.5million investment has already been approved by the board to boost capacity and improve systems at hospital front doors to improve patients’ care and experience.
NHS Grampian said its 2015 winter plan had been months in the making, with discussions taking place at the highest level and earlier in the year than ever before.
The board says the steps taken so far – and the ones it has yet to take – should “minimise” any potential disruption to services.