Digital response to COVID-19 proves Greater Manchester’s capabilities in delivering health and social care innovation

Health and social care innovation is one of the priority sectors underpinning the Greater Manchester Economic Vision launched by GM LEP and sits at the heart of the Greater Manchester Industrial Strategy. This piece was originally published on the GM LEP website. Read it online

Pretty much overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic made it clear that digital health provision would be more important than ever before in supporting the needs of people who would find it more difficult to access physical appointments.

NHS Trusts paused some routine and non-urgent hospital care. Patients were asked only to visit their GP if necessary. Alongside supporting routine care, attention also turned to the role for digital health and social care innovation in challenging the progress of the virus itself.

In Greater Manchester, the pandemic presented a unique opportunity to capitalise on the benefits of a £6.6bn devolved health and social care ecosystem, with organisations across the NHS, public and private sector, and universities already working in partnership.

When the pandemic first struck, one of the most significant achievements was a rapid acceleration in use of the Greater Manchester Care Record. Although it has been in existence for several years, the pandemic rapidly increased its use and the data flows going into it. The GM Care Record collates information held by different health and care organisations to ensure that GPs, doctors, nurses and practitioners can see up to date medical records, care plans, medications and test results. It now informs the right care and treatment for almost all 2.8m people across Greater Manchester.

Under normal circumstances, the GM Care Record means that patients don’t have to repeat their medical history to each professional, that clinicians will be better equipped to identify patterns, and care will be planned more effectively to meet patients’ needs. It builds on existing borough-based care records to create a single joined-up care record for all of GM. The system has been developed by tech company Graphnet, which specialises in developing health and care IT solutions.

In response to the pandemic, the GM Care Record now also includes information about when a patient has been tested or diagnosed with COVID-19, ensuring continuity of care across different care settings. For direct care purposes, the number of unique users using the record has grown from 4,599 (April 2020) to 9,451 monthly users (December 2020). 3.1m patient records from 443 GP practices are live on the system and more than 4,000 patient records are now being accessed each day. The GM Care Record also provides the mechanism that will support other digital projects such as being able to monitor COVID-19 patients’ oxygen levels remotely, digitising heart failure care plans and monitoring pregnant women’s blood pressure from home for signs of preeclampsia.

The project was overseen by Health Innovation Manchester and the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, working on behalf of GM’s devolved health and care partners.  Rapid progress was made as part of the city region’s COVID-19 digital response plan and collaborative effort. The GM Care Record is not just about care and treatment. It also provides the mechanism by which citizens’ deidentified health and care data related to COVID-19 can be used for research and secondary use purposes.

Greater Manchester has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Likewise, there are communities within GM that have been disproportionately affected.
The use of deidentified patient data for research enables healthcare professionals to understand this and inform GM’s health and care response to the pandemic and ultimately to care.
Potential secondary uses include work to understand COVID-19 trends and risks to public health and controlling and preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Sir Richard Leese, chair of the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership and a GM LEP board member, said: “Greater Manchester has a proud history of embracing innovation and has long been a crucible of new ideas and pioneering research.  Our unique devolution agreement has given us the freedom to explore and invest in the benefits new technology can bring, allowing us to better share data between organisations, to increase access to services and ultimately improve the lives and health of local people.  Plans were already underway to use new digital tools within our health care system before the outbreak of coronavirus. However, the demands created by the pandemic have seen them introduced at a pace previously unimaginable. We are now seeing more people than ever before consulting with doctors remotely, more people being able to access mental health support from home and the development of the Greater Manchester Care Record supporting more health and care workers to do what they do best, caring for people.”

Digital health innovation underpins the Greater Manchester health and social care landscape, exploring new means of improving health and access to health. Utilising data sharing with appropriate permissions and governance can improve health outcomes not only here, but across the world.

Health and social care innovation supports inward investment too, with national and international organisations keen to become part of a dynamic health ecosystem. Launched in January 2021, the Christabel Pankhurst Institute for Health Technology is just one example.

Delivered by a consortium led by the University of Manchester, it is supported with a £5m investment from the Local growth Fund managed by GM LEP and Greater Manchester Combined Authority, with further backing from the NHS, Health Innovation Manchester and Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust. Building on the university’s research strengths in digital technology and advanced materials – another priority sector in Greater Manchester – the institute will develop innovative solutions to pressing health and care challenges, fostering new collaborations, improving lives and catalysing growth in the health innovation business sector.

Published pre-pandemic in June 2019, the Greater Manchester Local Industrial Strategy underlines Greater Manchester’s ambition to be a global leader on health and social care innovation, not only creating new industries and jobs, but also improving population health and extending healthy life expectancy. Launched in November 2020, the GM Economic Vision built on the LIS, with initiatives including Innovation GM, a new platform which will bring together Greater Manchester’s public and private sectors, educational institutions and specialist facilities to attract research and development funding and drive economic growth. This will be targeted at frontier sectors identified by the LIS: health, digital, clean technologies and advanced manufacturing and materials. Another key theme within the Economic Vision is addressing the inequalities known to lead to poor health. Again, digital innovation has a part to play.

Lou Cordwell, Co-Chair of GM LEP, said: “Covid has shown the vital link between health and productivity; building on health devolution, Greater Manchester can use its assets to be at the forefront of global health innovations and new models of care.”

Professor Ben Bridgewater, Chief Executive of Health Innovation Manchester, added: “Even before COVID-19 hit, we had increasingly been viewing digital as important to pretty much all of the innovation work that we were doing in Health Innovation Manchester. We began to view it holistically and saw that there were very few programmes of work within the organisation that couldn’t be more transformational or delivered more efficiently if they embraced digital. I think when a lot of people talk about digital, they talk about the potential benefits of data or artificial intelligence. But our definition of digital transformation within healthcare is the way in which technology is transforming the products and services that are provided to citizens for the diagnosis and treatment of disease and the maintenance of wellness.” Read Ben’s blog about Digital innovation during COVID-19.

The GM Economic Vision reveals how Greater Manchester can influence a healthier UK. It sets out a commitment for Greater Manchester to be recognised around the world for our global strengths and progressive thinking in advanced materials and manufacturing, health innovation, digital and creative, and clean growth. Find out more about the GM Economic Vision.

Digital health and social care innovation has been accelerated by COVID-19, with initiatives in Greater Manchester including:

  • Development of the Greater Manchester Digital Platform: Greater Manchester’s councils, NHS organisations and other public bodies are working together to invest in new technologies and to explore better ways of working to join up data from the many systems across the public sector. This will allow data to be used more effectively to enhance care and improve services. The GM Care Record, which has been a long-term co-investment by Clinical Commissioning Group’s in the city region, is a fundamental component in this and now covers >99% of the GM population, with Covid accelerating its adoption. It is now being accessed approximately 9,000 times per week by staff across Greater Manchester. The GM Digital Platform is a newer, parallel programme focussed more on connecting data across public services to drive improvements in the health and wealth of Greater Manchester’s 2.8m citizens. The Digital Platform is a re-usable set of infrastructures that can be rapidly adopted in other priority areas to drive improvements. Partners in Greater Manchester are exploring how The Digital Platform can be applied within victim support, tackling homelessness and improving support for vulnerable families.
  • Examples of digital apps utilising the tech in the Greater Manchester Digital Platform include The Early Years App and The Community Hub App. The Early Years App is a UK first for Digital Health Visiting and is due to go live in early education shortly as well. Taking away the need for paper forms and speeding up support, over 1,600 families have been engaged with the App so far since go live in September, giving parents and carers the ability to fill in forms digitally and have access records for the first time alongside digital recording professionals. The new system will also help health visitors to identify developmental issues earlier and provide support for the child and their families quicker than current methods. The Community Hub Application was launched during the COVID-19 pandemic to match volunteers with vulnerable people in need of support across the city-region.
  • Mental Health Support: Thousands of people across Greater Manchester are being supported by new digital and online services as part of city-region response to mental health during COVID-19. Services rolled out across GM include: SHOUT, a confidential 24/7 text service operated by trained crisis volunteers; Kooth – an online counselling and emotional wellbeing platform for children and young people; and SilverCloud – an online therapy programme for adults proven to help with stress, anxiety, low-mood and depression.
  • Social Care support: Health Innovation Manchester has worked with social care partners with an aim to provide care homes with greater access to technology, tools and patient information so that they are better equipped to protect and care for vulnerable residents in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.
    Health and care professionals from Greater Manchester worked with tech company Safe Steps to develop a UK-first digital innovation that will help care homes to track COVID-19 and coordinate care with GP practices, social care and hospitals to optimally support vulnerable residents.
    The tool allows care home staff to input information about a residents’ COVID-19 related symptoms into a tracker, which can be shared directly with the resident’s GP and NHS community response team to ensure that a swift assessment and response can be put in place. Following a successful rollout in Tameside and Glossop in April 2020, the COVID-19 tracker is now in use in 101 care homes across seven localities in Greater Manchester. In total it means more than 3,100 residents are being supported through the tracker, with over 240,000 assessments taking place since April 2020
  • Primary Care Support: A digital primary care support package using the skills, expertise and resources from Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, Health Innovation Manchester and GM Shared Services has been created to support rapid deployment of new solutions and transformational changes taking place.
  • PPE stock level monitoring: Launched in June 2020, a new, first of its kind, situation reporting system is being used to monitor PPE stock levels, staffing availability, infection rates and outbreaks. It allows all ten Greater Manchester councils to share data in one place, creating a visual dashboard to show a clear picture of operational pressures during COVID-19.
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