All four Trusts that provide acute hospital services in Devon have come together in a ground-breaking ‘mutual support agreement’ that will benefit the county’s patients.
This approach, which has been recognised by NHS England as “an exemplar of joint working”, will see the county’s four main hospitals working closely to ensure NHS services are delivered in the best way.
The mutual support agreement has developed under Devon’s Acute Services Review, which has already seen doctors and clinical teams in our four hospitals starting to work closely in delivering key services, such as urgent and emergency care, stroke and maternity care, as well as agreeing to jointly tackle recruitment and staffing challenges.
This mutual support agreement will provide a mechanism to support the NHS in Devon to deliver consistent and equitable access to key hospital services, even if one hospital is facing challenges in service delivery. All Governing Bodies and Boards in Devon have endorsed this approach.
Explaining how it would work in practice, Dr Phil Hughes, lead clinician for the Acute Services Review and Medical Director at Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust, said that “our agreement is a very powerful statement of our commitment to supporting all our hospitals to continue to deliver safe and sustainable services and, by working as a Devon-wide hospital network, to support each other when we are facing service challenges.”
He added: “With increasing demand on services and national shortages of staff in some specialties, we face real challenges that need to be addressed. For example, some dermatology and breast cancer patients have had to travel to other hospitals, when their local services were experiencing pressures. Under the new mutual support agreement, we will be able to intervene earlier to put support measures in place. In these cases for example, we would have had the time to plan for our consultants to run extra lists at partner hospitals, rather than asking patients to travel. This approach to sharing our expertise will mean a better overall service for patients.”
The four hospital leadership teams will now effectively act as a networked system, proactively responding to service challenges by looking at where there is capacity across the system. This is in addition to other innovations emerging from the Acute Services Review to address service challenges, such as shared job roles, new ways of networking services and using technology to increase efficiency. Full governance checks and processes will be in place to make sure that patients from supporting hospitals are not disadvantaged.
Mairead McAlinden, Chief Executive at Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust, has led this work. She said: “We want the people of Devon to experience the very best care, regardless of where they live in our county. With huge demand for NHS services, which have doubled in the last 10 years, and a finite budget, we must come up with better solutions to meet these challenges.”
“Our leaders, doctors and teams have worked together to develop a new, far-reaching collaboration that will enable us to deliver the best care for Devon. This support network means our own people will find solutions to the service challenges we face, by working together across organisational boundaries.”
This partnership approach in Devon has also been praised by Mark Cooke, NHS England’s Director of Commissioning (South West): “We welcome the huge progress that has been made by the Devon STP. With their focus on safety and quality, frontline clinicians are finding new ways to safeguard services. The mutual support agreement is an exemplar that other parts of the country will, I’m sure, be interested to learn from.”