Cancer patients in Nottingham could soon be able to have appointments with their consultant via video link following a successful pilot project.
A clinic at the Queens Medical Centre has been offering patients with brain tumours the option of appointments via a specialist video platform similar to ‘Skype’.
The pilot project, one of a number already using video technology across the NHS in Nottinghamshire, was launched by Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust and MacMillan Cancer Research last year. The technology is now set to be rolled out in clinics that support patients receiving chemotherapy or recovering from radiotherapy.
The NHS Long Term plan describes the key role technology will have in delivering the health service of the future, highlighting the high number of patients who now access video or online appointments in Nottinghamshire.
Over the next five years every patient in England will be able to access virtual services alongside face-to-face services via a computer or smart phone. Health chiefs believe up to a third of the 90million outpatient consultations each year do not require a hospital visit. They hope to drive up efficiency by switching these over to Skype-style video services on smartphones or computers.
Andy Evans is Programme Director for Connected Nottinghamshire, the organisations leading digital transformation across the local NHS. He said: “We know there is growing demand from patients for more choice and flexibility about the way they use the NHS.
“Healthcare providers are using a wide range of technology across different settings to make the NHS more connected and offer convenient solutions to patients who can discuss their ongoing treatment from the comfort of their home.”
Virtual or remote clinics have been used across a number of NHS trusts in the UK as a means of freeing up time for patients and clinicians, as well as reducing unnecessary journeys for those who may be to too unwell to travel.
The Virtual Clinic in Nottingham proved highly popular with brain cancer patients who are not able to drive to appointments at the hospital. During the seven-month pilot more than a third of appointments took place using the video interface. Ninety five per cent of patients said they would like to continue using the system in the future.
Michael O’Cathail, who is a specialist registrar for cancer at the Trust, said: “Our aim was to test the remote consultation platform in a setting where patients would really benefit from virtual appointments.
“As these patients are unable to drive, coming to clinic can be onerous so we wanted to bring specialist care to the patient rather than bringing the patient to us.”
“The feedback from patients has been extremely positive and we are now looking to expand the Virtual Clinic to patients receiving chemotherapy or recovering from radiotherapy.”
NHS England, the organisation that published the Long Term Plan, states that digital transformation will enable the NHS to make big strides towards forging a lifelong relationship between people and healthcare services.
All NHS providers, including hospitals and GP practices, will be expected to roll out more opportunities for video consultations as well as other digital technology by 2024.
Mr Evans said: “We are exploring a variety of ways in which citizens can access consultations with a GP outside of the traditional face to face appointment.”
In Nottinghamshire over 1.25% of GP appointments are already carried out using online or video platforms. Almost 7000 patients have an online or video appointment every month.* This is one of the highest rates in the country.
One practice has employed the technology to support people with learning disabilities in a local care home. Roundwood Surgery in Mansfield conducts fortnightly GP consultations with patients at the Stone Cross learning disability care home via Skype. The care home uses a tablet device for the Skype calls. Following the introduction of regular Skype consultations, there has been a reduction in use of out-of-hours health services, face-to-face GP consultations and a 60 per cent fall in A&E attendances.
Now health leaders in the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire have approved plans to extend the project to a further eight GP practices and 20 care homes in the area.
Mr Evans added: “We hope that patients in other care homes will experience the same benefits we have seen in Mansfield where the project helped to improve patient health outcomes as well as boost efficiency.”
NHS England has confirmed support for Nottinghamshire to rapidly expand these types of consultation services to all patients over the next two years.