NHS Yorkshire and the Humber is considering spending £1m on a telehealth hub as part of its cost-saving plans.

This week, the strategic health authority decided to proceed with investment in a regional hub, subject to gaining enough interest from its primary care trusts.

The SHA board heard that the hub would be a “key innovation” to support delivery of the Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention (QIPP) agenda.

A paper presented to the board said international evidence showed that the deployment of telehealth “at scale” could deliver quality and efficiency gains.

It said proof of concept had also already been demonstrated by Airedale NHS Trust, which has been delivering care via telehealth devices to the prison service.

Potential benefits identified in the paper include reduced outpatient appointments and exacerbations requiring hospital admission, increased self care, improved patient satisfaction and higher quality care.

The size of the project will mean it will need to be procured via the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU). The procurement could potentially be launched later this year and the telehealth hub up and running by January 2011.

The £1m hub would be funded by the SHA’s Regional Innovation Fund under an umbrella contractual framework which local commissioners could then draw on to support local plans.

The board paper said “PCT buy-in” would be essential to ensure the telehealth hub was used by local commissioners and suggested that commissioners be asked to commit via letter of intent to contract with the successful bidder.

News of the proposals follows a report in the Daily Telegraph claiming that internal papers from a number of SHAs reveal proposals for staff cuts, hospital closures and greater reliance on telehealth and email as part of plans to meet the £20 billion funding shortfall facing the NHS.

The Daily Telegraph said NHS Yorkshire and the Humber is expected to make about £2 billion in cuts and said an internal presentation proposed directing more patients to “teleservices such as NHS Direct."

The board paper says the telehealth hub would provide the core infrastructure and managed clinical service for three aspects of care for people with long term conditions – telemonitoring, teleconsultation and teleeducation.

The paper written by Professor Sue Proctor, director of patient care and partnerships, adds: “There is a potential for Yorkshire to be a ‘first mover’ in the UK telehealth market by developing new approaches to commissioning and procurement and supporting the development of ‘scaleable local deployment’ alongside appropriate regional infrastructure and support’."

The paper goes on to say that the creation of a regional telehealth hub infrastructure would enable economies of scale to be exploited and to create sufficient critical mass to undertake the kind of comprehensive evaluation that would not be possible with a series of smaller scale pilots.

A spokesperson for NHS Yorkshire and Humber told EHI Primary Care: “The board did approve the £1m investment subject to the commitment of primary care trusts to the project.”