Navigating the NHS is one of the top challenges for seriously ill patients, based on RedArc’s experience

As the UK health system has become progressively more fragmented and complex over the years, today’s patients are finding it increasingly difficult to navigate their way around the NHS when they need to and therefore potentially missing out on everything that could be available to them. RedArc also believes that trying to dovetail NHS provision with other related services such as social services, charities and the private sector can further complicate the situation for seriously ill individuals.

Christine Husbands, managing director of RedArc said: “As a patient you wouldn’t know to ask for specific help if you didn’t know that that support existed in the first place. However, insurance providers are able to fill this void by offering added-value services which include access to expertise on what services are available and how to access them. This can go a long way in enabling their client, the patient, to feel in control of their situation and save a lot of wasted time and anguish at such a difficult time. It can be a godsend for employers too who can be sure all-round support is offered for seriously ill staff during a particularly difficult period in their lives.

“The NHS, social services and other support organisations provide an excellent service but sometimes due to time constraints, health professionals aren’t always aware of all the aspects of a patient’s situation and do not realise that other services available may be helpful to them or their families. So when we provide information on what is available it can make all the difference – all too often we hear individuals saying ‘I wish I’d known that months ago’. In many cases, it’s the little things that really make a difference, like knowing how to hire equipment locally, or who to speak to about benefits eligibility.”

Multi-disciplinary medical teams can create confusion

Medical advances mean that individuals with long-term serious conditions such as diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, arthritis, coronary heart disease or stroke are treated by multi-disciplinary teams, which can be an example of the NHS working at its very best. On the other hand, it can be confusing, and many families encounter problems such as co-ordinating care, and lack of communication between different specialities, at what can be a vulnerable time.

Examples of how an independent party can help a patient navigate the NHS, welfare support services and access holistic support:

  • Patients don’t know that they have the right to ask for an appointment to be moved to a different hospital or service if they are likely to wait longer than the maximum waiting time specified for treatment. The maximum waiting time for NHS in England for non-urgent consultant-led treatments is 18 weeks, or for suspected cancer it’s two weeks from the day the appointment is booked through the NHS e-Referral Service, or when the hospital or service receives the referral letter.
  •  People think that caring for a family member is expected – they don’t realise they have rights and entitlements as a carer, and often put off going to the GP about their own health. Encouraging people to see their GP and refer to social services for an assessment of needs, and a carer’s assessment for eligibility of benefits and respite care is crucial in preventing a potential crisis later on for both the carer and the patient.
  •  Specialist Nurse support is available at hospitals to provide a link between the Consultant and GP, but many people are unaware that this is available. Specialist Nurses act as patient advocates within the multidisciplinary team, and are involved with assessment and care planning, and provision of information and support for patients and their families.
  •  Dietician referrals are often available but not widely promoted. Weight loss can occur as a result of surgery or following some conditions such as cancer. But support can be provided to ensure the patient is in the best condition.
  •  Exercise can be available on prescription. This is a fact that is little known. In some areas, people who would specifically benefit from a prescribed regime of physical activity and exercise as part of a programme to treat their clinical condition, or to reduce their risk of developing a specific disease, are often able to access support for exercise, but this is not generally well known. This could comprise a reduced gym membership or group exercise classes, for example.Third-party support services that are offered via insurance providers, and employer sponsored via group risk products, provide effective, practical signposting to interventions, and provide a link between the community and health-social services – often at no extra cost to the policyholder.

Christine Husbands, managing director of RedArc said: “Each and every NHS trust has its own idiosyncrasies, but having helped patients across the entire UK, we’re experts in understanding how the different systems work in order to gain fast access to a range of holistic support.

“People usually rely on family, friends and work colleague for advice or recommendations, but when a serious illness occurs, it’s unlikely that anyone in that circle has exactly the same condition or requires exactly the same treatment. Having a professional to rely on who really understands the medical situation, and which additional elements of support the patient is entitled to, is one less burden for the patient, their carer or their employer to worry about. And, of course, it can expedite recovery too.”