More than 200 care homes will be connected to the telehealth hub at Airedale NHS Foundation Trust this winter.

The hub was set up in September 2011 and connects patients to a 24/7 nurse-led service at Airedale Hospital. The trust is working with technical partners Involve to roll-out the service to around 200 nursing and residential homes as part of a joint venture called ‘Immedicare’.

Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust is one of those that has funded the installation of the service in 18 care homes as a trial project designed to reduce its hospital admissions and people using its A&E department.

John Rayner, Calderdale and Huddersfield’s director of health informatics, said the trust was keen to provide a better service for care home residents who can find it very distressing to visit A&E.

“The telemedicine service provides care home staff and patients with immediate access to expert clinical advice that in many cases means that a trip to the hospital can be avoided,” he added.

The hub is staffed by specialist nurses who can assess and triage patients as well as support nursing home staff to provide any additional care.

Airedale’s deputy director of strategy and business development Rebecca Malin told EHI a team presented on Immedicare at around 20 conferences in the final months of 2013 and this had generated a steady stream of interest in the telehealth service.

Results of a study of the hub were presented to The Kings Fund Third Annual International Congress on Telehealth and Telecare 2013 and showed that: hospital admissions dropped by 45%; length of stay in hospital dropped by 30%; and use of A&E dropped by 69%.

Malin said there was initial concern that if given a 24/7 service, patients and care home staff would use it a lot. However, she found the opposite was true as simply having the equipment gave them the reassurance they needed. This means that one nurse on duty can support 2000 patients at a time.

The hub is now providing ‘out-of-region’ care to patients in Cumbria, Bolton, Dartford and Gravesham. The Immedicare team works with local acute trusts to agree pathways to allow hub staff to call bed managers directly if a patient needs to be admitted.

“It’s another example that geography is irrelevant,” Malin said.

“We see this as a means of potentially spreading capacity in the longer term.”

Malin said the use of telemedicine hubs could easily spread beyond elderly care. Airedale is involved in a pilot using the technology to deliver speech and language therapy as well as end of life care.

“There’s lots of ways we can use this and we certainly haven’t discovered them all,” she explained.

Profits from the joint venture are reinvested in local services for Airedale.