The Department of Health has formally launched its 3millionlives campaign to roll out telehealth and telecare to 3m over the next five years.

At a Parliamentary reception, care services minister Paul Burstow also unveiled a concordat between the DH and the telehealth and telecare industries, to demonstrate commitment to the programme.

“We want to move beyond the current situation where a few thousand people are benefiting from telehealth to one where millions of lives can be improved with the help of these technology assisted services, and contribute to the mainstreaming of telecare,” it says.

The concordat is designed as an “enabling framework.” Detailed decisions about service delivery will be left to local decision makers, who “understand the needs and interests of patients.”

As such, it fails to go as far as a new report from the 2020 Health think-tank implicitly suggests it should.

The report, which studies the telehealth experience of the US Veterans Health Administration, suggests that care pathways incorporating telehealth should be designed and overseen at a national level.

It also says telehealth needs to be established as a “centralised care coordination service on a local / regional basis” and not built around the work of existing community matrons, district or practice nurses, as has sometimes been the case in the UK.

Other recommendations in the report include making changes to the NHS tariff and finding ways to target the patients who will most benefit from telehealth.

The Veterans Health Administration provides health services for 23m vets; some 50,000 of whom are now enrolled in its Home Telehealth programme, which supports those with mental health issues as well as long-term conditions.

The VHA has the advantage over the NHS of being a single payer and provider, so it captures all the cost savings generated by the programme.

Nevertheless, the concordat says that more use of telehealth and telecare should lead to fewer unplanned admissions to hospital and care homes, and more satisfaction with the care that people receive – as long as these technologies are integrated into NHS and social care services.

“By working together, and with other partners, government and industry can achieve transformational change so that patients benefit from safe and high quality services,” it asserts.

The concordat has been signed by the DH, Telecare Services Association, Association of British Healthcare Industries, Intellect and MedilinkUK.