The financial squeeze could finally force the NHS to restructure itself around community services, according to national director for improvement and efficiency Jim Easton.

Nearly four years after the Our Health, Our Care, Our Say white paper established the principle of moving many services out of hospitals into community settings, Mr Easton described the recession as the “lever” that could kickstart this transformational change.

In a time of growth you can simply keep adding to the current model and not have to change it

Speaking to HSJ at the Challenge for Community Services conference in London this week, he said: “Bizarrely, the financial challenge we face is a tremendous opportunity because it forces you to deal with structural change.

“In a time of growth you can simply keep adding to the current model and not have to change it. We don’t have that option so the choice must be to identify the right changes. It will be a bumpy ride,” he added.

Mr Easton also highlighted the better adoption of technologies such as telehealth as critically important to improving community services.

He said that for people at home, managing heart failure for example, proven technology already existed that could transform the quality of their lives and reduce cost.

“We need to get serious about identifying and adopting those,” he said. “They can put people in control of their own health and release huge amounts of duplication in wasted time from professional staff.”

He said in community services, getting technology to unlock quality, professional time and cost was critical and he was “really interested” in people who were ambitious to lead in this.

Technology was one of two high impact changes Mr Easton identified as ways of delivering better services while reducing costs. The other was the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement’s Productive Community Services programme, also launched at the conference.

It is the latest in the series of programmes that began with Productive Ward in 2008.

Mr Easton said: “The Productive series has been transformational in the acute sector and has every chance of being equally transformational [in the community]. I think it’s a really key driver for change.”