A grandfather from Berwick has spoken of his relief at being able to receive an important diagnosis during the coronavirus lockdown without leaving his home.
Charlie Blyth, 64, is one of the patients at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust who has been able to be assessed by clinicians by video call and over the phone as hospitals across the country postponed non-urgent appointments and operations due to COVID-19.
Before the pandemic, 10% to 20% of outpatient appointments at the trust were done digitally, by video or telephone consultation.
The trust say that by April and May, that increased dramatically to 70% and equated to almost 11,000 appointments.
increase in digital, video and telephone consultations since the start of the pandemic
Charlie was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in May on a video call with nurse consultant Annette Hand.
He said: “It really was tremendous and I’m behind virtual appointments 100%.
I felt so much more comfortable being able to see Annette and her happy, smiling face than I would have done over the phone and I felt so much more relaxed being able to remain in my own home and not have to travel, which with me living in Berwick could have taken hours.
“With the lockdown I was worried that I would have to wait months to be seen but I had my video call only a week or so after I was referred by my GP – I was surprised how quickly it happened.
“Annette was able to put the jigsaw together rather than having lots of pieces that didn’t mean anything and I’m so relieved that I know now rather than be constantly worrying about things.
“I couldn’t recommend virtual appointments more and I hope that even after coronavirus people use it as I think it’s the way forward.”
During lockdown, Northumbria Parkinson’s service used the ‘Attend Anywhere’ technology – and waiting times have reduced from three to four months pre-COVID to two weeks, diagnosing a number of patients like Charlie.
Annette said: “When COVID started and we were told we weren’t able to run physical clinics I was really quite panicky. We receive around 60 new referrals a month and rely on being able to see those patients to assess them properly and the last thing we wanted to do was to have them wait longer for a diagnosis.
Parkinson’s remains very much a clinical diagnosis and we rely on what the patient tells us but also on how they look, move and present on examination. You can’t get a clear picture of someone over the phone and I certainly couldn’t make a diagnosis that way and Attend Anywhere has enabled me to still see them face-to-face.
“It’s also meant a lot less travelling for the patients which is a major benefit and for clinicians it has meant we are able to see many more patients and been able to decrease our waiting times significantly.”
The technology also enables patients to have a relative or friend log in to the video consultation if they want them to, just as they would invite them to attend an appointment with them in person, ensuring they are not alone.
Whilst NHS services are beginning to open up, the trust intends to continue to use this technology where possible, ensuring that patients who still need to be seen face-to-face are able to attend a clinic.
Annette added: “Whilst we’d dipped our toe in virtual outpatients before COVID, the pandemic has demonstrated how much of a major benefit it is, particularly in an area as large as ours, and has been an incredibly useful resource during these challenging times.
“As a trust, we intend to build on these foundations and embrace technology even more to further improve the experiences of our patients, maintain social distancing and reduce the environmental impact of our services.”