Trust to host spinal service in GP surgery

7 June 2016

Patients suffering from back pain will be able to visit a specialist Royal Free London clinician at their local GP practice, as part of a pilot project funded by the Health Foundation.

The new pilot service, which is due to launch in August, will see patients with lower back pain given the opportunity to refer themselves to a clinic run by an extended scope practitioner (ESP) – an advanced clinician with spinal expertise – practicing out of Fairbrook Medical Centre in Borehamwood.

If the pilot succeeds the project could be expanded to GP practices across north London and Hertfordshire. 

The project has been awarded a share of £1.5 million funding from the Health Foundation, as part of the charity’s ‘Innovating for Improvement’ programme.

The service aims to improve patients’ experience and quality of care by ensuring they receive the most appropriate treatment from the most appropriate clinician as soon as possible. This project refers specifically to spinal conditions for which there is significant evidence that early appropriate management shortens treatment time, improves outcomes, reduces patient anxiety and increases satisfaction. 

The project is also expected to improve efficiency and provide cost savings by freeing up GP time and reducing the number of unnecessary investigations, prescriptions and treatments. 

Patients attending the clinic will be triaged by the ESP, who will then decide the best course of action. Treatment options could include a follow-up clinic appointment, telephone consultations or advice and support to facilitate their recovery. 

ESPs will also have access to spinal orthopaedic consultants for surgical opinions and be able to book patients in for orthopaedic surgery from the GP clinic.

Patients requiring physiotherapy will be referred to the specialist physiotherapy spinal team for one-to-one appointments or sessions with a spinal pain rehabilitation group. 

Over the course of the project the team will develop its innovative idea and approach, put it into practice and gather evidence about how the innovation improves the quality of health care.

The project team is led by Nicola Akehurst, extended scope practitioner and ESP clinical lead, at Barnet Hospital.

She said: “We are delighted to have been awarded the funding from the Health Foundation for our pilot. The patient self-referral project is an idea that has developed over many years from our experience of treating patients with back pain. The team of clinicians involved in the project have a wealth of expertise and feel passionate about the benefits that this service will bring to patients. As the ESPs will be working in the GP surgery it will furnish an opportunity for sharing of ideas, issues and developments. “

Sarah Henderson, associate director of the Health Foundation, said: “We are very excited to be working with such a high-calibre of teams, who all have great innovative ideas. As an organisation we are keen to support innovation at the frontline across all sectors of health and care services, and I am pleased that we will be able to support these ambitious teams to develop and test their ideas over the next year. 

“Our aim is to promote the effectiveness and impact of the teams’ innovations and show how they have succeeded in improving the quality of healthcare, with the intention of these being widely adopted across the UK.” 

The ‘Innovation for Improvement’ programme will run for fifteen months and each project will receive up to £75,000 of funding to support the implementation and evaluation of the project.

Image: (l-r) ESP team members Emma Brooks, Sian Bamford, Nicola Akehurst

Notes to editors

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About the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust

The Royal Free began as a pioneering organisation and continues to play a leading role in the care of patients. Our mission is to provide world class expertise and local care. In the 21st century, the Royal Free London continues to lead improvements in healthcare.

The Royal Free London attracts patients from across the country and beyond to its specialist services in liver and kidney transplantation, haemophilia, renal care, HIV, infectious diseases, plastic surgery, immunology, Parkinson's disease, vascular surgery, cardiology, amyloidosis and scleroderma and we are a member of the academic health science partnership UCLPartners.

In July 2014 Barnet Hospital and Chase Farm Hospital became part of the Royal Free London. Read 'A bigger trust, a better future'.