Digital duo transforming patient care at Calderdale & Huddersfield NHS named Our Health Heroes Digital Innovation Team of the Year

Photo of OHH Digi Innovation Team
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By Skills for Health | 24 March 2021

Claire Sibbald, Transformation Manager at Calderdale & Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust (CHFT) and Richard Hill, Senior Collaboration Lead for The Health Informatics Service, have been crowned Digital Innovation Team of the Year, at the fifth Our Health Heroes Awards. Their accelerated delivery of video appointments during COVID-19, digitally empowered clinicians to carry on ensuring patients could receive the right care, in the right place, at the right time.

More than 300 NHS and Social Care staff came together virtually on March 23, with sector and government leaders for the ceremony, where the pair were presented with this inaugural award by Niamh McKenna, Chief Information Officer at NHS Resolution.

Healthcare professionals submitted more than 600 nominations across nine award categories, including those in this newest category, which was created to honour the technological advances and innovations that helped the NHS through one of its toughest years in history. On announcing the winners Niamh, who also judged the category said:

“I am fortunate enough to see the digital innovation happening every single day across the NHS, which means I know first-hand the level of hard work and determination required to deliver meaningful results like Claire and Richard have accomplished. The pandemic has inevitably affected every role within our sector, and during this challenging period the demand for innovation has generated some incredible achievements, so it is vital we have awards like this one today to celebrate them.”

Delivered with the help of our partners NHS Employers, UNISON, SFJ Awards and Bevan Brittan, the annual Our Health Heroes campaign shines a light on the extraordinary efforts of thousands of dedicated healthcare support staff who work hard behind the scenes to keep the system running, day after day.

Helen Barker, Chief Operating Officer at CHFT said: “COVID-19 turned the NHS inside out but caring for patients and ensuring their care and appointments continued was paramount for us. Then up stepped Claire and Richard, and within such a short time our patients were being offered video appointments so they could stay in touch with our clinicians who were treating them, and during this time, nothing could be more important for them, or us.”

Claire and Richard have been described by their nominator Lisa Williams, Assistant Director of Transformation & Partnerships at CHFT, as the “most driven and productive duo I’ve seen in 30 years.” When tasked last March to develop and roll out video consultations across all services at the Trust, their ‘can-do’ approach meant that some of their most vulnerable patients had access to remote care in the most challenging of times, in no time at all.

Richard said: “We were already looking at a platform to provide video appointments and had undertaken some small-scale pilots with two services. The pilots had finished, and we were just in the process of sharing what we had learnt. So, we were already moving in the right direction, albeit slowly. Then along came COVID-19 and the pace of the work changed into ‘very urgent’.

“We had a solution ready to go – it just needed implementing. Time was in short supply, yet I do believe, that the paths you cross along your way through life are planned for you. Meeting and working with Claire was a good path. Claire had the scope and the project management background, and I had the system knowledge and the enthusiasm, and this partnership began to evolve into a “work marriage” that could move mountains!”

Working with Microsoft to pilot the consultation booking app, Richard and Claire quickly produced infographics of operating policies, provided patient information in several languages and formats, and hosted live events remotely to demonstrate and engage with colleagues. Setting up webpages for both colleagues and patients to access ‘How-to’ easy guides with videos, they piloted the whole video consultation process live with over fifty patients, over two days, to make sure it was user focused.

The team personally prepared all patients over the telephone so that they felt comfortable with the technology and trained others to do the same. Claire said: “The testing process we went through helped us to experience what it was like for the patients, as well as for the clinicians providing the appointments. We wouldn’t have got to where we have without our test patient and clinician volunteers. They gave up their own time to test the system, and we were able to tailor our communications based on their feedback, and by developing the service ourselves this meant we could include information that was bespoke to each individual service.”

Claire and Richard developed the systems and processes for group, one-on-one, and Multi-Disciplinary Team case reviews with patients across the entire spectrum of outpatient and community services in Calderdale and Huddersfield, including, cardiac rehabilitation, frailty, physiotherapy, Speech and Language Therapy, and diabetes, to name a few. This resulted in them enabling Microsoft Teams into care homes to set up direct support for the frail and elderly, keeping them out of A&E wards at a crucial time. One patient said:

“A virtual appointment was a great and practical option for me. I was able to receive a diagnosis in the comfort of my own home. The virtual appointment saved me an hour round trip to the hospital and enabled me to maintain social distancing measures.”

Likewise, to help keep vulnerable patients out of clinical areas and to prevent workload movement into primary care, they supported the development and implementation of a seamless pathway of a remote prescribing and home delivery service with pharmacy and estates services staff, and patients said: “This may be the way forward, especially for those who have difficulty leaving their home.”

The Trust’s oncology team, where patients are not only some of the most at-risk following chemotherapy, but often feel too unwell or fatigued to attend the hospital, have found the video appointments invaluable. Video consultations offer the patient a much less stressful option for care, removing the time pressure of travelling, so that they have more time to receive the support and emotional help they need. In one case, where a son lives in Australia, he was able to attend an oncology appointment with his mother, which would never have been possible without the video appointment service. CHFT’s senior oncologist now performs 90% of her clinics not only virtually, but from home, by having the same access to clinical data as she would in the hospital.

Alongside developing the patient facing virtual pathways, Richard was key to ensuring CHFT’s workforce were also kept safe. His tenacity and enthusiasm supported the rapid large-scale movement of most non-clinical colleagues, and those shielding, to work from home.

Richard said: “Driving change in the NHS is not the easiest thing to do, yet it was amazing to see the project getting better and better, bigger, and bigger. We had another couple of extra staff join us, and the team went from strength to strength. We were able to utilise other elements of Microsoft Office 365 to further enhance the video appointment offer to include consent processes, surveys, and group appointments. The ability to watch a project from its conception to birth and growth is the singular most amazing feeling. “ 

Following the pair’s work, CHFT has now adopted live events on a wider scale for their own staff services. Large consultant meetings with senior colleagues are now delivered online, and there’s also a weekly workforce wellbeing session hosted virtually, where over 100 colleagues regularly log on to hear motivational speakers.

Claire said: “This award means a lot. There are so many people working incredibly hard in the NHS and other organisations right now, that it’s very humbling to receive an award for something that I consider as ‘just doing my job’. I don’t really feel it’s for me, everyone has had a part to play. It’s for every single person who has already and continues to put their trust in us, which has enabled us to implement a video appointment process at scale, in such an incredibly short space of time.” 

In March 2020, for most staff at CHFT, Microsoft Teams was just another icon on their desktops that was rarely used. Today, thanks to Richard and Claire, it not only supports the workforce to deliver more personalised care within the patient’s community, but also helps provide a far better, more efficient service to patients.

John Rogers, our Chief Executive at Skills for Health said: “The incredible improvement to patient and staff outcomes at CHFT over the last twelve months, as a direct result of Claire and Richard’s rapid acceleration of digital transformation, demonstrates why they are such worthy winners of the Digital Innovation Team of the Year title. This award is a testament to their hard work and commitment to both patients and staff, at such a crucial time.” 


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