HEALTH bosses have denied paying cash incentives to GPs after spending millions on hi-tech telehealth systems which have been largely ignored by the region’s medical practices, writes Richard Catton.

NHS North Yorkshire and York bought 2,000 of the systems in 2010, in what is understood to be a £3.2 million initiative.

But only 659 of the units are currently in use in houses around the county. The trust is now paying GP practices £200 for each patient identified and referred to use the system.

Kerry Wheeler, assistant director of strategy for NHS North Yorkshire and York, said: “No incentives are being offered to GPs. However, after working with a number of GP practices to get up and running with telehealth, we identified the need to offer a small payment to cover the initial workload associated with identifying and referring patients.

“This comprised a one-off payment of £200 per practice, plus a further payment of £50 per installation. An additional £50 is offered to GP practices for patients who require telehealth for six months or longer, providing it is clinically appropriate and is incurring additional workload for the practice.”

Telehealth kits are small, portable electronic units programmed to take readings such as blood pressure on a daily basis. They are connected to the patient’s phone line, and readings are sent to a monitoring centre.

Ms Wheeler said until recently the emphasis had been on referring patients for telehealth via community teams such as case managers and community nurses.

She added: “Recently, we have been working more closely with GPs to involve them in the identification and referral of patients, to ensure the process is as integrated as possible. Latest figures show that 85 out of 98 practices now have patients on telehealth; they just weren’t necessarily referred to telehealth by their GP.”

The telehealth systems were bought from Selby-based firm Tunstall and are designed to monitor the health of long-term sick patients in their own homes.