Almost 1,000 patients have been saved from making gruelling 200-mile round trips to hospital thanks to pioneering video-consulting technology introduced in Caithness last year – and it has now been expanded to Skye and Golspie.
NHS Highland intends to further roll out the Near Me clinics to the Belford Hospital in Fort William and the new hospital in Aviemore in the coming months – with work also beginning on offering patients online conference appointments at home.
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The NHS Near Me service, launched 12 months ago in Wick, has seen a 9% drop in the number of patients having to travel from Caithness to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.
Around 11,000 patients a year make the journey from the north to the Highland capital, but the Near Me pilot project has resulted in 980 consultations taking place via video.
Highlands and Islands MSP and shadow health minister David Stewart said “I’m delighted to see the roll out of this innovative video consulting service for outpatients in NHS Highland, which will prevent long an unnecessary journeys having to be made to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness for many patients.”
Conservative MSP Edward Mountain welcomed the rollout of the service, but added: “It is vital that NHS Highland uses this technology to supplement but not replace the range of treatments and therapies which are available in our rural hospitals and general practices.”
The NHS Near Me service at the Portree Hospital on Skye opened on December 19 and another clinic based at the Lawson Memorial Hospital in Golspie, Sutherland, went live this week.
From an initial two departments (respiratory and stroke and rehabilitation), there are now 17 departments offering appointments via the service.
The Highland haematology service is currently the number one provider by volume of Near Me video consultations of all clinical services anywhere in Scotland.
NHS Highland’s NHS Near Me lead, Clare Morrison, said: “Our aim is to offer the same range of NHS Near Me services in Portree and Golspie as we currently have in Wick.
“And we also have plans so that even more departments can provide NHS Near Me services in the near future.”
With three clinics now in operation, NHS Highland plans to open a staffed NHS Near Me clinic at the Belford Hospital in Fort William and a further clinic at the new hospital in Aviemore.
In addition, work has begun on offering patients NHS Near Me appointments at home.
Mrs Morrison said: “The NHS Near Me service can be used by patients who have a device for making video calls like a smartphone or computer with webcam, and a reliable internet connection.
“We have already provided a few appointments this way successfully, and have just started work with a public group in Skye to ensure the at-home service is easy to use.”