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Virtual appointments surge during lockdown – and could shape future of healthcare in Scotland

NHS Near me has been hugely important during lockdown
NHS Near me has been hugely important during lockdown

Virtual medical appointments have soared during lockdown and could shape the future of healthcare in the north-east and Highlands.

NHS Near Me enables people to attend pre-arranged appointments using a video call, rather than attending in person.

Patients see the same consultant or healthcare professional they would have seen in a clinic, and can use mobile phones, tablets, laptops or computers to make the call.

National Clinical Director Jason Leitch checks out some Near Me literature

The use of video consultations in Scotland has rapidly escalated since the Covid-19 pandemic started, indicating it may be used far more widely even after the pandemic is over.

Prior to March, there were around 300 video consultations each week using the Near Me system which had been piloted in parts of the north.

By June, there were almost 17,000 every week, and about 150,000 in total.

In Grampian, the numbers rose during this period from just 83 to 3,000 per week, with 27,807 in total.

Paul Allen, NHS Grampian’s director of eHealth and facilities, said video consulting was proving to be “vital” for the health-board.

And in Highland, the numbers rose from 86 to 1,166 per week, with 10,138 in total.

In the Western Isles, the number of video consultations using Near Me increased from eight to 184 per week, with 1,577 in total.

In Orkney, there was an increase from 11 to 131 per week, with 1,514 in total. In Shetland, the numbers rose from two to 66 per week, with 850 in total to date.

Kathleen Carolan, NHS Shetland’s director of nursing and acute services, said Near Me was now being “extensively used throughout Shetland”.

She added: “It has enabled services to continue to be provided without potential exposure to Covid-19 and has significantly reduced the number of people coming into health and social care premises.

“It is important we plan now for the future post-Covid 19 – and residents in Shetland have a part to play in that.”

The Near Me service, which was developed and tested in 2018 and 2019, was initially used mainly in the Highlands and Islands, where rural distances pose a challenge for healthcare providers.

Now, the Scottish Government team behind the service has launched a major engagement exercise to find out what people think about how the system might be improved for the future.

 

The survey, which can be accessed at www.nearme.scot/views, asks a range of questions relating to Near Me and will be available until July 24.

Clare Morrison, who co-leads the national Near Me programme, said: “As we plan ahead we want to understand what the general public think about Near Me and its future use, and we hope our survey will allow us to do that.”

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