Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen a vast increase in the number of hospital and GP consultations being offered via telephone, video calls and email.
In May, NHS England reported that before COVID-19 roughly 95% of GP appointments were carried out face-to-face. It is now estimated that 85% of consultations are being done remotely.
This means that services have been able to continue offering care to millions of people whilst also maintain social distancing. However, it doesn’t really tell us whether these appointments are working for people.
That’s why we are launching a new project to explore whether people are receiving the help they need.
What are we hearing from people?
Our previous research has shown that people welcome the idea of the NHS making better use of new technology to help make care more convenient.
We’ve heard how people living in rural areas, those with mobility challenges, and anyone who has regular check-ups for ongoing conditions are particularly keen to make use of remote consultations. This is because it can significantly reduce the amount they have to travel to receive care.
During the pandemic, and the rise of digital appointments, we have started to hear more about how they are working in practice. Currently, it seems that people’s experiences are fairly mixed.
Local Healthwatch have heard from people who were apprehensive beforehand, but after having experienced a remote consultation and receiving good care, have now been converted.
We have also heard how these sorts of appointments are either not suitable for certain people or being used in a way that doesn’t work for specific needs. For example, we have heard from people with learning disabilities and those with sensory impairments that suggest the current approach is not working for them.
Our new research project
The changes in the way care is being delivered have happened almost overnight, demonstrating how quickly the NHS has responded to the crisis.
However, if remote consultations are to become the ‘new normal’, it is vital that the people using these services get to have their say.
We are working with a group of 75 patients with recent experience of remote appointments, recruited from 16 areas across England. We will be exploring with them what has worked well and what could be improved. The results of this work will then be shared publicly and with health and care decision makers in July.
Later in the year, we will be conducting further research to look at the needs and experiences of those who may be being excluded by these new digital services. This is to ensure that no group is left behind by the NHS.
How can you help?
Have you had a recent experience of a digital or remote consultation? How might it be improved?
Or are you / a loved one nervous about digital or telephone appointments? Are you worried you won’t be able to get the care you need?
Whatever your views or experience, good, bad, or a bit of both, we want to hear from you. It only takes a few minutes but could make a big difference, locally and nationally.
What you tell us remains anonymous and there will not be repercussions to your current or future care.