Virtual NHS consultations hailed a success during coronavirus pandemic

Telephone and video consultations for NHS patients accessing primary and secondary health care are being hailed a success by patients and NHS staff in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.

From an 82 year old veteran learning how to administer insulin for diabetes over a video link with a practice nurse, to patients accessing online consultations with hospital staff, for health visiting services, language therapy and a patient with Parkinson’s disease, receiving online therapy from home, virtual consultations are proving to be both an effective and popular choice with patients and NHS staff.

The local NHS has responded quickly to the coronavirus pandemic by working in new and innovative ways across the NHS system, to integrate and deliver health services including advice, diagnosis and treatment to patients safely. Latest figures from the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust show more than 900 telephone and video consultations are being delivered from Leicester’s Hospitals every day. This is very different to the situation in March, three weeks before the nation went into lockdown, when more than 98% of hospital consultations took place face-to-face.

The majority of GP consultations, mental health support and therapy for people with learning disabilities is also taking place remotely, with patients generally providing positive feedback of their virtual experience.

A small but growing number of appointments are taking place via video at Leicester’s hospitals. By the week ending 3 May, video consultations made up 10% of all appointments and the number is increasing, as video consultations are likely to continue increasing across the NHS.

The Trust has also piloted video consultations in areas as broad as haematology, dermatology and general surgery. In other areas, such as diabetes, staff rapidly set up virtual clinic software to conduct video consultations with patients. Not only could they deliver a virtual clinic experience and provide valuable clinical care, but importantly, patients were spared the need to travel into hospital and meet face-to-face with staff and other patients, therefore reducing their risk of contracting the new coronavirus.

Professor Melanie Davies, consultant in diabetes medicine at Leicester’s Hospitals, said: “Patient safety is the first thought in anything we do. From talking to patients, we understand that being able to continue with a clinic, virtually, has meant so much for them. The immediate transition from ‘in-person’ clinic to ‘virtual’ means the team can reassure our patients that we are still here and can continue to support them. In some ways it has changed the consultation experience, as we find that patients tend to be more relaxed in their own home.” During a diabetes virtual clinic, patient James Mepham commented: “The system was very easy to use, and to be able to continue my clinic appointments has been a reassurance during this time.”

Face-to-face appointments and 24/7 A&E services are still available for people who need them, including vulnerable patients and people experiencing symptoms of serious medical conditions such as stroke and heart attack. People are urged to always seek urgent medical attention when they need it.

Dr Ursula Montgomery, GP and Clinical Chair of East Leicestershire and Rutland CCG said: “I would like to thank patients in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland for their understanding and reassure them that GP practice teams are doing their best to provide GP services whilst protecting the most vulnerable patients. “Practice teams are assessing every single person who contacts them to establish if a visit to the practice is required and our teams will continue to provide the safest advice and treatment, over the phone, via video consultation or face-to- face if necessary. “People can stay up to date with the latest advice by accessing their practice’s website or by accessing the NHS website and App.”

Jane Edyvean, Outpatient Transformation and Reconfiguration Programme Manager at Leicester’s Hospitals, added: “Whether it’s by telephone or video, patients are already telling us some of the benefits they have experienced. “Going virtual means they can fulfil their appointments without having to take lots of time off work or undertake long journeys.”

The local NHS is learning more about what people think of virtual consultations from patients who are providing feedback through an online survey about their experiences. This feedback will help the local NHS shape services going forward. So far, 615 people have responded and further information is available on LLR CCGs’ websites.

Anyone who has accessed a virtual NHS consultation is urged to provide their feedback online before midnight on Sunday 7 June 2020. The survey is available at:   

People should seek advice and treatment by phoning their GP practice in the first instance, NHS111 or in the case of an emergency, by accessing emergency services.

People who need to access urgent care services or a Minor Injury Unit should also book an appointment through their practice or NHS 111, rather than walk-in. This will ensure that they can access the best possible services whilst protecting themselves and others.