As reported by BBC news, online check-ups are set to ‘transform’ healthcare in Wales, according to the clinical lead of a digital scheme
More than 80,000 video consultations have been performed by GPs and other services since March and now NHS Wales’ Video Consultation Service (VCS) will offer the technology to all optometrists, pharmacists and dentists in Wales. Despite being made a necessity by COVID, VCS clinical lead Prof Alka Ahuja said it is here to stay.
“We don’t want to be going backwards,” she said.
“We have learnt how it works, we learnt what it does for our patients and we have learnt that it saves time to travel and reduces the carbon footprint.”
The VCS is funded by a £50m of Welsh government digital priorities investment fund.
Stephen Manley, who recently left the military after 36 years as a soldier, used the service following a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“I didn’t value my life that much,” said the 55-year-old from Llandough in Vale of Glamorgan.
“I’d been trained to do a job. [I felt] like a car – once the car gets to a point where it’s no longer valuable, you get rid of it and get another one. And that’s the way I felt.”
Mr Manley’s counselling sessions were moved online when the pandemic started, an option he preferred.
“It just helps so much in so many ways and it makes you feel more comfortable. You’re not in a sterile environment. I could be sat on the settee at home, I could be having a cup of coffee. [It’s] very relaxed,” he said.
He likened it to other lockdown activities, saying: “We had quizzes every Friday night with the family. So it just felt like that sort of build-up, [though] the questions were a little bit different from the family quiz”.
Latest figures from NHS Wales show online consultations are currently being offered by more than 70% of the 397 GP practices in Wales.
So far, 273 out of 1,592 privately-run optometrists, pharmacists and dentists have started using the service and NHS Wales is providing training to help more health practitioners get ready to use the online software.
For patients to take part in an online consultation, they need access to a smartphone, tablet or computer with a working camera. Concerns have been raised about accessibility for those who don’t have a good internet connection, as well as any potential decline in the quality of regular check-ups.
“We must retain face-to-face consultations as an option,” said Michael Phillips from Age Cymru.
“[They] must be of equivalent quality in terms of length and frequency as online consultations.”
A main aim of the scheme is to improve, not compromise, the quality of care, according to Prof Ahuja.
“We want to make sure we’re delivering high-quality service to patients, but it may also mean that for those who it is appropriate, they will get a virtual consultation and it frees up time for clinicians to attend to people who may need face-to-face and/or need longer appointments” she said.
Dentist Debbie Hughes is doing up to 10 online consultations every day at Ruabon Road Dental Practice in Wrexham.
While she admits “you can only see so much on a video”, she said it helps clear the backlog of patients caused by the pandemic.
“We’ve gone from seeing about 30 people a day to seeing five a day. Those five appointments are really precious.
“If we know exactly what patients are coming in for then the time’s better managed for all our patients, so it’s been really useful in that respect” she said.