Virtual consultations across NHS Wales services are to be expanded to include virtual group clinics, for outpatients across primary, secondary and community care, the Health Minister, Vaughan Gething has announced.
The use of video consultations, called Attend Anywhere, has expanded rapidly over recent months and has helped to ensure patients continue to safely access healthcare services during the pandemic.
To date, just under 11,000 GP consultations and almost 62,000 secondary and community care appointments have already taken place virtually in Wales.
Virtual group clinics are the next stage in Welsh Government’s commitment to bringing care closer to home and will be rolled-out across primary, secondary and community care settings.
Each year, around 3.1m patients are seen at outpatient departments across Wales. The virtual group clinics will deliver care to groups of people with similar health needs, including diabetes, musculoskeletal conditions, rheumatology and dermatology.
Clinicians will run a session with between 10 and 15 patients on a specific area of their care. This shared care will allow for patients and clinicians to come together for the benefit of all; patients can learn from the experience of others, have peer support and develop alternative strategies to support their own pathways; and clinicians will be able to interact with a number of patients at one time, delivering consistent approaches to managing their care.
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board has already begun delivering therapy services virtually in a number of areas including Dietetics, Pulmonary Rehabilitation and especially Speech and Language Therapy.
Feedback has been positive from both patients and staff to the virtual approach, who have said the technology is easy to use. Patients reported that the service was far more convenient and avoided costs associated with taking time off from work and travelling to appointments. The opportunity to share experiences with others was also seen as a benefit.
Virtual group clinics will provide convenient access to support and advice for those who maybe self-isolating, have mobility issues or are housebound. They will also help those who may have other commitments and time-constraints, such as unpaid carers and those working from home.
Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething, said:
“During the pandemic, we have seen transformational changes and new ways of working to ensure the continuity of patient care from GPs, community health in the community and in hospital outpatient departments. Thousands of patients have already received excellent care via individual video consultations and we can now accelerate our plans for virtual group consultations.
“Wales is the first country to roll-out this way of working across all three parts of our NHS. Our virtual group clinics will lead the way and ensure that people in Wales will be able to access the benefits of medical care and support, whichever clinician they need to see, in whatever setting, from the convenience of their own home.
“Video group clinics will also help us ensure service continuity and resilience, and enable our dedicated healthcare professionals to deliver care and advice in a rewarding, safe and supportive way which provides long-term benefits to the NHS here in Wales.”
In partnership with NHS Wales and Welsh Government, Redmoor-ELC are co-ordinating and delivering the virtual developments and technical support required for over 250 clinical teams to use the video group clinics securely and safely.