Reducing AKI and creating a world first for the NHS

Think Kidneys, the NHS campaign to improve the care of people at risk of, or with acute kidney injury, won a Health Business Award last November. The UK Renal Registry, who orchestrated the campaign, explain the success of the campaign

Acute kidney injury (AKI) is an emerging global healthcare issue. As health care increases in complexity, the interaction between long term medical conditions, medication and inter-current illness are too often complicated by AKI. It is estimated that one in five emergency admissions into hospital are associated with AKI, that up to 100,000 deaths in secondary care are associated with AKI and that a quarter to a third have the potential to be prevented..

The resource and economic burden upon the healthcare economy is considerable. It is estimated that the additional cost is between £0.5 and £1 billion per annum with the potential to save between £100 and £200 million per annum with optimal care.

Think Kidneys
Think Kidneys aims to raise awareness of AKI and develop fantastic, practical resources for the NHS and social care. Our aim is for a future in which health and care professionals think about kidney status in the same way that they do now about blood pressure and heart rates.

AKI is a sudden and recent reduction in a person’s kidney function and is most commonly seen in the context of other serious illness, such as sepsis, and in someone whose kidneys are vulnerable. It is not, as might be suggested by the name, AKI caused by a physical blow to the body. The kidneys do a lot to keep us well, so when they go wrong lots of problems arise so AKI causes suffering, can be life-changing and costs the NHS a lot.

Think Kidneys also aims to raise awareness, reduce avoidable harm and death and improve care for people with AKI in the community or in the hospital. Patients and NHS professionals have developed all the resources for the programme. We’ve taken advantage of their passion, skill and commitment to reduce the risk of AKI, improve outcomes for patients and reduce the financial burden on the NHS. Case studies, blogs and latest news are on our website, where we share how people are working differently and improving awareness, prevention, detection, treatment and care right across the NHS and social care.

Recognised as a patient safety issue, Think Kidneys is supported by the UK Renal Registry and the safety team of NHS Improvement. Using existing blood results a new algorithm was implemented in labs systems to provide an AKI warning stage test result. Not only does this help the care of individual patients but the data are collected by the UK Registry to help the NHS improve care across the country – this is the first and largest set of information on AKI in the world.

Think Kidneys formed a small working group to work together to develop our public campaign. This was not part of the original plan for Think Kidneys, but when, as part of early communications activity, a survey of the public told us that only 50 per cent of the population know that their kidneys make urine, the board felt a responsibility to respond to this challenge. While the original aim was to educate the public about the risk and impact of AKI a priority was to start with simple messages about the importance of kidneys for health.

The campaign comprised a set of five thought provoking posters with very clear messages, which were produced for use across the NHS. Four of the posters were endorsed by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society for display in pharmacies, with 20,000 posters now on display across the NHS. An animated infographic was also created for the website and is displayed in GP practices and hospital clinics across the country. A media campaign followed which was kick-started by a 30-minute focus on Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show, supported by GP Dr Sarah Jarvis.

Targeting specific media outlets, the campaign reached around 20 million people and won the Campaign of the Year Award at the Health Business Awards in November 2016. The campaign also included: Sky News all day report on hourly bulletins following the publication of the second alert (viewer numbers are four million per day); a feature article in The Mail on Sunday (nine million readers); BBC Midlands – Graham Torrington Show with Michael Wise, Board Patient Representative (9,000,000); and OK magazine – 3.1 million readers.

The posters can be ordered for free, are on display in many GP surgeries, pharmacies, clinics and care homes. We are very keen to help people who are at risk of AKI understand how they can help themselves. The team were absolutely delighted to have won the NHS Publicity Campaign Award at the Health Business Awards for 2016, despite fearsome competition from the other shortlisted campaigns.

Karen Thomas, programmes manager for the UK Renal Registry described how it felt: “I was thrilled to accept the award in London today. The team has worked hard on the campaign. We have such an important message to get across the public about the importance of their kidneys and this award tells us we got it right and reached people. We created the campaign with a small budget and a tight timeframe and our aim was to spread the message as far as possible. It’s great to know that others consider our campaign a success as well as us!”

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