A £5m telehealth project in Gloucestershire has deployed less than a quarter of its 2,000 devices in its first ten months.

In June last year, Tunstall Healthcare and NHS Gloucestershire launched a project to provide telehealth to 2,000 patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic heart failure, chronic heart disease and diabetes.

The stated aim was to roll out the telehealth devices over 12 months, starting in the summer.

However, NHS Gloucestershire has confirmed that only 454 patients are currently being supported this way.

A spokesperson for the trust told eHealth Insider a roll-out plan has been designed to bring the number of patients in the county being supported by Telehealth to 2,200.

“GP training has been largely completed and the programme established within practices,” a statement said.

“With growing buy-in from GPs, and steadily increasing referral rates, we are on course to achieve real quality improvement and to have at least covered our costs by March 2013.”

The PCT is giving GPs £70 for every referral made, which it describes as a “referral compensation” in recognition of the extra time required to set up each patient.

The service has also been extended to “patients with other conditions where the GP’s clinical opinion is that telehealth could enhance their quality of life and reduce avoidable hospital admissions,” a March press release said.

A trust spokesperson said the payment was designed to free up initial clinical time to focus on appropriate referrals, and was supported by both clinicians and local commissioners.

She added that Gloucestershire’s telehealth scheme is the “most successful and largest GP referring programme in the UK, with 88% of GP practices (74 out of 85 so far) actively referring patients.”

The apparent issues in getting patients on to the Gloucestershire scheme mirror reported problems at another large telehealth project.

NHS North Yorkshire and York introduced a pilot telehealth scheme in 2009 and extended it in early 2010 with a £3.2m contract for 2,000 devices.

However, the roll-out of the devices has been significantly delayed. Initial plans for the contract with Tunstall were to have 1,500 units in use by the end of the 2010-11 financial year. But in June 2011, only 350 of the 2,000 units had been deployed.

The North Yorkshire PCT was also paying GPs to make use of the devices, giving practices a one-off payment of £200 and additional £50 per installation.

In March, Linda Prosser, project lead for NHS Gloucestershire, said the service was receiving between five and ten referrals a day and the technology was helping reduce referrals to hospital.

However, these figures do not fit with the overall number of patients on telehealth in the region which would suggest a referral rate of less than two people a day.

The PCT also provided a number of supporting statements from local GPs in a press release about the project.

Dr Will Haynes, GP and long term conditions lead for NHS Gloucestershire, said: “Being able to monitor vulnerable patients means that we notice changes or deterioration earlier, which enables us to change the outcome of that particular deterioration.

“The impact of being able to do this is leading to a reduction in consultations and emergency call-outs.”

The telehealth units monitor patients’ vital signs such as weight, blood pressure and oxygen levels with results viewed and triaged on a daily basis by a monitoring team.