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Cardiology Consultant Line

Consultant Link (advice and guidance) serviceGP Care logo

UH Bristol's Cardiology Team is working as part of a unique and innovative advice and guidance service, called Consultant Link, that is improving communications between GPs and consultants and supporting GPs in managing patients in primary care wherever safe and appropriate. The service is  provided by UH Bristol in association with GP Care UK, a specialist provider of community based health care and infrastructure services, who developed the telecoms solution and manage the service on a day to day basis. 

The Consultant Link service provides GPs with immediate telephone access to the cardiology consultant team via their mobile phones. By calling a single number, a GP's call is routed through to a prioritised 'Hunt Group' list of consultant mobile phones. The Hunt Group operates such that the call is routed through to the consultant at the top of the list but should that consultant not be in a position to answer then the call would automatically divert to the second consultant on the list and so on. 

The conversations between GPs and consultants are digitally recorded with an MP3 file being automatically created and sent to the GP practice to be attached to the relevant patient's records. The same MP3 file is also retained for access by UH Bristol clinicians as necessary and therefore the system is paperless for the consultants. 

As a consequence GPs are now able to talk to consultants without having to battle with call transfers, voicemail, and automated telecoms systems; calls are being answered in less than 60 seconds and the conversations last for around three minutes on average. Since commencement of the service last year the feedback from GPs has been consistently positive both in terms of the speed of access and the quality of clinical advice given. One GP commented that the system was "very easy, answered very quickly, very good prompt advice - excellent service!" 

The service has proven highly effective in reducing unnecessary attendances at hospital; to date some 65% of the Consultant Link calls from GPs have concluded in the patient receiving safe and appropriate care at their GP practice and consequently not having to travel into and park at the Bristol Heart Institute (BHI). This is felt to be a significant benefit for patients and a significant efficiency gain for the overall NHS system. Dr Tim Cripps, lead cardiologist at the BHI remarked that "this system was set up to improve communication between primary and secondary care. We have a hunt group of consultants ready to take a call [and] the GP can be pretty much guaranteed to get through to a consultant with their enquiry. The sort of enquiries we deal with are those which often would have led to an actual outpatient referral or even a request for admission". 

While a high specification and bespoke telecoms system has been a fundamental platform to delivering this service, it is the close collaboration between GP Care's service team and UH Bristol's cardiology clinicians and management that has really made it work - ensuring that consultants only receive calls when they are in a position to answer them, which in turn ensures that a very high proportion of GPs calls are answered promptly. Roger Tweedale, GP Care Chief Executive, commented that "UH Bristol's cardiology consultant team has been brilliant to work with. They are all committed to providing the highest quality of care but also to ensuring that only patients who need to be in hospital actually get referred to hospital. Consultant Link has therefore enabled more patients to be treated by their GPs and has consequently reduced the waiting times for patients who do need complex care within the hospital environment". 

UH Bristol and GP Care have, on a joint basis, recently won through to the finals of the Health Service Journal/Nursing Times Care Integration Awards 2013 on account of the success of Consultant Link. The winner of the award is to be announced in July 2013 and we are hopeful.