GP video appointments help thousands of patients living in the South West

Thousands of patients in South West England are now benefiting from video-based appointments and patient care delivered remotely by GPs and other primary care staff thanks to the combined efforts of NHS organisations across the area.

All GP practices in the South West are now able to offer video consultations thanks to a joint effort between NHS England and NHS Improvement, clinical commissioning groups in the South West, Academic Health Science Networks, and NHS South, Central and West, the commissioning support unit for the region.

NHS organisations have worked together to rapidly help GPs, pharmacists, practice nurses and others working from home because of COVID-19 to connect to NHS systems and patient records. This has included sourcing supplies of new laptops which NHS IT experts have quickly built up to enable staff working from home to securely link to NHS and GP practice IT systems in order to provide patient care.

The efforts have involved a range of technical solutions to ensure that GPs and other practice staff can get access to specialist primary care IT systems and the systems within their practices so that video consultations can take place, prescriptions be issued and patient records be updated confidentially.

Nationally in response to COVID-19, general practice is managing more than 85% of consultations remotely. Over 95% of practices now have video consultation capability live and the remaining few percent are beginning or in the process of implementation.

Between 6 April and 12 May 2020 practices across Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire carried out nearly 14,000 video consultations; in Devon more than 13,000 video appointments were conducted and over 14,2000 were held in Gloucestershire.

Dr Michael Marsh, South West Medical Director for NHS England and NHS Improvement said: “Across the South West NHS organisations have worked closely together to ensure that GPs and their colleagues have the technology to provide patient care through video appointments and remote digital access to patient records.  We knew early on that asking all patients to attend GP practices in person would place patients and staff at increased risk. GPs often assess patients by telephone and then like to see their patients in person so this has been a big cultural change but one which both patients and GPs have embraced.”

Dr Steve Trowell, Director for Digital Transformation NHS England and NHS Improvement South West said: “This has been a huge technical challenge which we have overcome by bringing together digital experts from a range of organisations including private sector partners. The Long term Plan committed to giving patients in primary care the right to video consultations by April 2021. In the South West, we have met the target a year early and in a matter of weeks.  The technology ensures safe and quality care not only during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the future.”

Dr John McCormick, Devon GP and Chief Clinical Information Officer for NHS Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “All Devon GP practices now offer online, phone and video consultations. This is extremely encouraging, because it shows our GPs are quickly adapting to new technology to continue providing care during the coronavirus pandemic. Not only do video consultations allow patients to consult their GP from the comfort of their own home, it helps protect the public, patients and members of our health service by limiting their exposure to infection.”