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£2m to expand role of NHS Direct

The way in which NHS Direct assists people with long-term health conditions may be transformed thanks to a £2m grant
The way in which NHS Direct assists people with long-term health conditions may be transformed thanks to a £2m grant awarded by the National Institute for Health Research to medical experts at the University of Bristol.

The team, headed by Chris Salisbury, professor of primary healthcare at Bristol, will undertake a five-year research programme to find out the type of services that people with long-term conditions (LTCs) would like NHS Direct to provide and the types of people who would find this most useful. The researchers will then develop suitable services and test whether they work.

Professor Salisbury said: "As the population is getting older, more and more people are living with LTCs such as asthma, diabetes and depression. The number of people affected is so large – and is getting larger – that the NHS needs to explore new ways of working. There is great interest in the potential of 'telehealth' based on technologies such as the internet and the telephone to improve care for people with LTCs."

The research programme will focus on patients at high risk of having a heart attack or stroke and patients with depression, as examples of two different types of long-term condition.

The researchers will review all the best international evidence available about the role of telehealth in LTCs to develop ideas about how NHS Direct might usefully improve care for LTCs. They will interview people with LTCs about ways in which NHS Direct could help them to look after themselves and also interview health professionals about how it could help them manage LTCs.

Patients at high risk of stroke or heart attack and patients with depression will also be asked about difficulties they have in accessing care, their needs, and the types of care they would like from NHS Direct. The researchers will then identify the types of people most likely to benefit from NHS Direct care for LTCs.

New programmes will be developed and patients will be invited to register. The benefits and costs of these programmes will then be compared against usual forms of care. If the new programmes are successful, they could be rolled out nationally.

The research team is a partnership between NHS Direct and leading academics in the universities of Bristol, Sheffield, Manchester and Southampton and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

24th November 2009

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