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Forres Health and Care Centre's Dr Malcolm Simmons calls for residents to help alleviate pressures on service by attending living lab pilots

By Garry McCartney

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Simon Bokor-Ingram, Simon Bokor Ingram, Chief Officer for the Moray Health and Social Care Partnership
Simon Bokor-Ingram, Simon Bokor Ingram, Chief Officer for the Moray Health and Social Care Partnership

MORAY residents are being called to join a pilot of digital health technology to address pressure on frontline health and social care services.

Leaders in health and social care confirm services across Scotland face serious challenges amidst declining wellbeing, reduced budgets and staffing levels, and longer life expectancy, warning that, coupled with declining numbers entering the professions, have left services at a tipping point with current delivery models including face-to-face GP and hospital appointments described as unsustainable.

Moray Health and Social Care Partnership chief officer, Simon Bokor Ingram, confirmed members of the public are being recruited for ‘living labs’, including at Forres Town Hall today (Wednesday, March 20) from 10am-noon, followed by others in Buckie, Aberlour and Elgin to measure the effectiveness of new approaches.

He said: “We’re facing serious challenges in the delivery of health and social care in Scotland so we need genuine innovation and radical new approaches if we are to continue meeting the needs of the public.

“That’s where this new approach will be essential.

“There is a demographic shift, with people living longer, placing greater demand on services that outstrips human resources. When coupled to a reduction in the number of people entering health and social care, it’s inevitable there will be a tipping point. This cannot be addressed with more money alone.”

The £5million UK Government-funded Rural Centre of Excellence for Digital Health and Care Innovation (RCE) – a health and social care focused research and development project launched in 2021 as part of the Moray Growth Deal – has been set up to identify and deliver digital tech innovations.

Led by Scotland’s Digital Health and Care Innovation Centre (DHI), it aims to drive a fundamental change in approach that will see the public taking proactive responsibility for their own health through control and sharing of linked data across all aspects of their lives.

Possible applications of technology include the use of a data cloud to securely store patients’ personal data and create more streamlined and efficient access to integrated services such as GP appointments, routine blood tests, or referrals. The tech would also make it easier for unpaid carers to help loved ones access services.

Dr Malcolm Simmons is a Forres-based GP partner and GP clinical lead for Moray.

He said: “​​We want our patients to be able to access services easily and have timely access to hospital and secondary care tests and treatments. We don’t want their health to deteriorate whilst waiting on NHS waiting lists. We also want to provide as much access as possible and offer a range of services in a variety of ways. However, our capacity is finite and there has been under-investment in GP services, infrastructure, and premises over many years.”

Dr Simmons believes development of a personal data store has the potential to overcome practical difficulties that patients, families, GPs, carers, and other professionals face when trying to share information used to optimise care.

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He added: “With the person controlling who has access to their information, the individual can choose to share their information with everyone who is important to them, thereby allowing health and care teams to communicate more effectively. This will also allow the individual to communicate more effectively with those involved in their care. The carer will be able to access information about their health, test results and treatment, as well as information online and in their local area.

“In the future, everyone could have access to this technology, allowing phone or tablet real time access to results, health information and advice that might help deal with health problems or encourage a healthier lifestyle.”

A major challenge patients and carers face is the need to repeatedly recount information to professionals working across departments.

A case study is ‘Mary’ - whose name has been changed to protect her identity - a retired nurse who now cares for her husband, who lives with a form of dementia, full time ‘Bill’ was diagnosed with the condition around four years ago and has withdrawn from his life.

Mary explained that the need to repeatedly retell his story takes its toll on the couple’s mental wellbeing, as well as making appointments inefficient and sometimes unnecessary.

However, she believes the new approach and technology to be piloted through the RCE will improve the situation.

She said: “My husband no longer goes out and is now non-verbal. At the start, he enjoyed talking to staff but it was the same questions over and over again. The repetitiveness was frustrating him and eventually became an ordeal for both of us. They know his diagnosis and the situation but nobody checks in enough.

“This new technology and approach could change that. It’s about putting control in the hands of patients and carers.”

Four citizen panel information events are being held across Moray, starting at Forres Town Hall today; then at Buckie Fisherman’s Hall on Thursday, March 21 from 6-8pm, Fleming Hospital, Aberlour on Friday, March 22 from 2-4pm and Elgin Library on Saturday March 23 from 10am-12pm.

For more information and to sign up visit dhi-scotland.com/news/mrce-roadshow/

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