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Norfolk and Waveney’s Covid Protect in the running for six national health awards

Covid Protect - a local NHS and social care initiative to protect Norfolk and Waveney’s most vulnerable patients at the onset of the pandemic - is in the national spotlight and flying high with six prestigious award nominations.

The pioneering innovation has been shortlisted as a finalist in the 2021 Health Service Journal Awards, British Medical Journal Awards and the General Practice Awards.  These accolades - spanning a range of categories and disciplines - are recognised as the most significant and influential in heralding outstanding achievement across the sectors of medicine, health and care.

Covid Protect was launched by the Norfolk and Waveney Heath and Care Partnership in March 2020.  As the pandemic’s first wave hit the UK, NHS England provided ‘shielded patient’ lists and tasked local health and care systems with contacting those registered as clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) to ensure their health and care needs were met during lockdown.

A collaboration of diverse organisations from across Norfolk & Waveney - in partnership with data technology specialists Prescribing Services Ltd - instigated a ground-breaking approach; maximising the use of Norfolk's population health management system (Eclipse) and GP-held patient information to identify, monitor and swiftly respond to the needs of those at high risk of serious complications from Covid 19.

A core Covid Protect team was established to drive the innovative use of data; expanding the list of patients identified nationally for shielding at home to include a wider group of individuals known by local GPs to be clinically vulnerable / at moderate risk. This meant an additional 12,000 patients were able to benefit from direct contact and support in addition to already identified shielding patients.

Targeted outreach focussed on those most susceptible to serious illness and hospitalisation, including many who now found themselves cut off from traditional routes into health and care services. More than 100 redeployed NHS and Voluntary Sector staff were part of a team of contact callers who regularly telephoned those who were deemed most vulnerable.  This allowed Covid Protect to prioritise and escalate individual health and social care needs to both clinical and non-clinical teams across Norfolk and Waveney. 

The remote monitoring of health conditions, ongoing contact with those most at risk of harm and the provision of early care and support interventions enabled people to stay safe and well at home.  This approach allowed the health and care system, working collaboratively as a whole, to proactively reduce demand on ambulance and A&E services and avoid further increases in hospital admissions during the early months of the pandemic.  

Having already made the final of the Royal College of Physicians Excellence in Patient Care Awards earlier this year, Covid Protect has now been shortlisted as a finalist for four more upcoming national awards:

  • The Primary Care category of the 2021 BMJ Awards (winners announced 29 September)
  • Both the Connecting Services and Information category and the Primary Care Innovation of the Year category or the 2021 HSJ Awards (winners announced 18 November)
  • The GP Team of the Year category of the 2021 General Practice Awards (winners announced 10 December)

Bringing the total to an impressive six national award nominations, two Norfolk GPs - who were instrumental in leading key aspects of Covid Protect - have also been shortlisted as finalists.  They are nominated separately for GP of the Year at the 2021 General Practice Awards for their individual contributions to the success of the pioneering project. 

Dr Jeanine Smirl, GP at St Stephen's Gate Medical Practice in Norwich, provided clinical leadership to the Covid Protect team and Dr Julian Brown, GP Partner at Litcham Health Centre and Fleggburgh Surgery led on the coding of a digital platform that allowed patients to self-monitor their health and wellbeing from home.

Said Jeanine: “Partnership working across NHS, primary care, social care and voluntary support services meant the health and care system was able to gather information and mobilise its response more quickly and efficiently. 

“We were screening shielded patients daily; assessing their risk and rapidly triaging them to make sure the right health and social care resources were in place to support them at home.  The pace we were working at was phenomenal and national guidance was changing all the time.  People were initially told to shield for 12 weeks but as virus transmission intensified this was extended into the summer. 

“Covid Protect provided a safety net for our most vulnerable patients whose needs may otherwise have been invisible because they were shielding at home.  Monitoring their health conditions – as well as checking they had food, medications, and the social support they needed – was crucial in them getting through the worst of the pandemic and letting them know we still cared.”

Said Julian: “Identifying our most vulnerable and at-risk patients using local GP practice data - in combination with the Council Data ​- was essential in expanding the care and support offered beyond the initial cohort of shielding patients.  GPs and local community health and care services hold essential information within their databases and patient records, based on the regular interactions they have with people at a local level.

“We were able to support the right patients at the right time to improve equality of care through creating a partnership between primary care, the Council and the patients themselves. We received more than 250,000 contact responses from patients enabling us to focus our clinical resources on at-risk individuals.

““Using real-time data to inform clinical decision-making and care planning is fundamental in effective healthcare.  Harnessing technology and designing services in partnership with our patients to address the clinical and social needs of our population will be the future of sustainable health and social care services and help us ensure equality of care."   

Dr Clare Hambling, a GP at Bridge Street Surgery in Downham Market, also provided clinical leadership to the Covid Protect project and said: “Norfolk and Waveney really is leading the way in the use of primary care data.  The positive impact we were able to have at such a difficult time for these incredibly vulnerable people was just fantastic - and it was very rewarding professionally to be making such a tangible difference.” 

“We are now using similar approaches in our wider Protect Now programme of work; offering preventative health interventions and support to people at risk of developing long-term conditions. This national recognition is well deserved and a real testament to the commitment of my GP colleagues and local health and care partners in protecting people’s health and quality of life for the future.”

Howard Martin, Director for Population Health Management and Health Inequalities was the NHS Norfolk and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) executive lead for Covid Protect.  He said: “One of the real advantages we have in Norfolk and Waveney is the strength of our primary care teams and their willingness to work with wider health and care colleagues to drive improvements in clinical care and patient wellbeing.

“Our talented clinicians and collaborative partners are never afraid to test the boundaries of what’s possible, working above and beyond their day-to-day roles to achieve the best possible outcomes. This national recognition puts Norfolk and Waveney firmly on the map for using data and technology to drive health and care innovations.  Many congratulations to all involved and thank you for your ongoing professionalism and passion in this vital area of work.”

Protect Now – the wider programme of work that evolved from Covid Protect – sees similar digital risk stratification approaches to population health management and is currently focused of improving access to mental health wellbeing services (talking therapies), increasing uptake of cervical screening and preventing type 2 diabetes in those patients with increased risk factors.

In addition to the accolades for Covid Protect, Norfolk and Waveney health services are enjoying wider recognition in the areas of dermatology and medicines management. The North Norfolk Primary Care team have been shortlisted in the 2021 HSJ Awards for transforming dermatology through the use of diagnostic imaging and the One Norwich Primary Care Network pharmacy are shortlisted in the Extended Practice Team Member of the Year category of the 2021 General Practice Awards.





More about the impact of Covid Protect

Eastern AHSN (Academic Health Science Network) worked with the Yale Global Health Leadership Initiative (GHLI) within the Yale School of Public Health in collaboration with Norfolk and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and Relentless Leadership to distil learnings from Norfolk and Waveney’s implementation of Covid Protect.  The result was a Roadmap, which highlights key processes, practices and tools related to the design and implementation of the project.  The Yale publication is available on the Eastern AHSN website here: Covid Protect: A Digitally-Enabled Service to Support Vulnerable Patients, Roadmap for Adoption

Eastern AHSN (Academic Health Science Network) is funded by the NHS and the Office for Life Sciences to bring together academia, citizens, health services and industry to realise the value of innovations more quickly.

About the Norfolk and Waveney Health and Care Partnership – In Good Health

In Good Health is a partnership of local health and care organisations working together to improve the health, wellbeing and care of people living in Norfolk and Waveney. Our partnership includes local GP practices, hospitals, community care, social services and mental health teams, and together we provide services to more than a million people. The nine member organisations (see below) work closely with our local Healthwatch organisations, district councils, the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector and others. 

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