NHS introduces AI solutions to tackle winter healthcare demands and minimise hospital admissions
As winter approaches, the NHS is set to deploy artificial intelligence (AI) technology to identify patients at risk of hospitalisation, enabling community healthcare teams to provide preemptive care and alleviate the strain on Accident and Emergency (A&E) services. This initiative is part of a broader introduction of technological and data-driven solutions to enhance the NHS’s response to the seasonal increase in healthcare demands.
In Somerset, four GP practices have initiated a pilot programme using an AI system designed to identify registered patients with complex medical needs who are at heightened risk of hospital admission or those who seldom contact their GP. The system facilitates proactive outreach for health discussions. Subsequently, individuals identified as high-risk will be contacted by health coaches, nurses, or GPs. These healthcare professionals are equipped to offer an array of preventive services, which include the provision of food parcels for vulnerable patients, intensification of care to specialist doctors, implementation of preventative measures to reduce the risk of falls, or connection to local volunteer organisations to combat isolation.
Innovative use of AI in Buckinghamshire involves it being linked to electronic sensors on household appliances such as kettles and refrigerators. These sensors monitor changes in patients’ eating and drinking patterns, triggering alerts to a non-clinical Onward Care team. The team can address up to 95% of issues raised by interacting with patients directly, escalating clinical matters when necessary. Patients have the option to avail themselves of these community-based, practical support measures that not only offer monitoring but also assistance with household chores, shopping, and the provision of food parcels, which has been instrumental in preventing hospital readmissions among frail patients.
Some regions in Birmingham are trialling a different approach, employing an algorithm that forecasts the top 5% of individuals at risk of potential A&E visits or hospital admissions. The team conducts wellness checks to offer social care assessments, medication reviews, or other community support initiatives to circumvent A&E admissions. Over the upcoming two years, this programme aims to prevent approximately 4,500 non-essential A&E visits, reduce overnight hospital stays by 17,000, and liberate around 23,000 GP appointments for other patients.
These innovative measures are being implemented in the context of an NHS already under significant pressure, with recent data indicating that A&E departments experienced their busiest October on record, while ambulance services reported the highest monthly demand witnessed this year. The NHS has been diligently preparing for winter, guided by the urgent and emergency care recovery plan published earlier in the year. The plan includes strategies to augment capacity and fortify resilience across the NHS, such as the establishment of care ‘traffic control’ centres to expedite patient discharges, the provision of additional ambulance hours, and the increase of available beds.
The NHS has also been expanding its globally acclaimed virtual ward programme, achieving its target of establishing 10,000 virtual ward beds by the end of September. These virtual wards allow patients to receive hospital-grade care in the familiar surroundings of their own homes, surrounded by family, friends, and carers.
Amanda Pritchard, NHS Chief Executive, commended the suite of technological and data solutions being introduced: “These advances demonstrate the innovative spirit of NHS staff across the nation, who are leveraging the latest technology and AI to provide patient care and significantly reduce unnecessary A&E visits. Not only are these strategies more beneficial for patients, who can receive care in the comfort of their homes, but they also support the NHS, especially as we anticipate an incredibly challenging winter season.”
Chris Holt, Chief Transformation Officer at Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS FT, emphasised the crucial role of data and AI in healthcare delivery: “Intelligently using data and harnessing AI is now essential in aiding our most vulnerable patients. Identifying those at greatest risk of hospitalisation during the winter allows us to intervene earlier with tailored support.”
In preparation for the winter season, the NHS recently launched its annual 111 campaign to encourage the use of NHS 111 services for urgent, non-life-threatening medical advice. The campaign, which will run until the end of March across various media platforms, informs the public about accessing advice from a range of NHS professionals, including clinicians, nurses, and GPs, all from the convenience of their homes. However, in emergencies that are life-threatening, the campaign reiterates the importance of calling 999.