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Project ECHO launch highlights community of learning

Launch of Project ECHO
At the official launch of Project ECHO NI are (front row, from left): HSCB Chief Executive Valerie Watts, Department of Health's Director of Transformation Sharon Gallagher, HSCB Chair Dr Ian Clements, HSCB Director of ehealth Sean Donaghy, Chief Executive Hospice UK Tracey Bleakley, Project Director Martin Hayes. Back row: HSCB Director of Integrated Care Dr Sloan Harper and Project ECHO NI Clinical Lead Professor Max Watson.

Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) is a pioneering tele-mentoring programme which provides support to clinicians and health care professionals through the sharing of specialist’s knowledge in order to improve the quality of care to patients.

The project, officially launched on 9 May, brings GPs, nurses and other healthcare professionals together to participate in guided practice discussions with specialist mentors. With the use of video-conferencing technology, participants benefit through case based learning and the sharing of evidence-based, best practice guidance.

Originally developed in New Mexico, the ECHO model is designed to address the growing demand for secondary care services and can help to increase capacity within primary and community care, through sharing of specialist knowledge and improving relationships across primary and secondary care.

Funded by the Health and Social Care Board and working in partnership with Hospice UK, Project ECHO® Northern Ireland is setting up 30 different ECHO knowledge networks this year, covering a wide range of health and social care services.

Clinicians participating in the ECHO sessions via video-conference across multiple locations acquire new skills and support to treat their patients who otherwise would have to be referred to other specialists. Patients with complex chronic long term conditions, including dementia, diabetes and neurological conditions can then get specialist supported care where they live, from their local GP or specialist nurse whom they know.

Through ECHO, opticians across Northern Ireland have been supported by the Royal Victoria Hospital ophthalmology department to provide ongoing care for chronic conditions such as glaucoma and macular degeneration which were previously only dealt with by hospital specialists.

As a low-cost high-impact model, ECHO can be adapted to meet the needs of different communities and populations. At a time when healthcare providers are under mounting pressure to do more and spend less, this model provides an affordable solution to addressing growing need in training and supporting healthcare professionals.

Leading the initiative is Professor Max Watson, Clinical Lead for Project ECHO Northern Ireland.
“These networks will develop new ways of delivering service which better fits the needs of those with chronic care, irrespective of where they live, and freeing up capacity for more complex issues in our acute centres, “ he said.

Dr Ian Clements, chairman of the Health and Social Care Board, said: “Project ECHO’s development in Northern Ireland is a fantastic example of collaboration across a range of partners, local and international, to adopt innovative practice for a tangible benefit to both practitioners and the public.”

The launch took place in the Project ECHO Northern Ireland’s new offices on Belfast’s Shore Road.