Virtual hospital consultations will not be mandatory in west Hertfordshire

West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust runs NHS hospitals in Watford, Hemel Hempstead and St Albans

Tuesday, 7th September 2021, 12:42 pm
Updated Tuesday, 7th September 2021, 12:56 pm

Virtual hospital consultations in west Herts will only be used where they are chosen by the patient, a report by hospital chiefs suggests.

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic online consultations have been increasingly offered nationwide, as an alternative to meeting medics face-to-face.

That has been a welcome step for those patients who have been nervous to go to hospital – or those who welcome the convenience of remaining at home.

West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust runs NHS hospitals in Watford, Hemel Hempstead and St Albans

And there have been suggestions that virtual appointments will become a way of life in the future.

But bosses at West Herts Hospitals Trust acknowledge there are public concerns about access to virtual platforms and whether virtual appointments could become mandatory.

And now their newly-finalised ‘Clinical Strategy’ confirms that virtual appointments will only be used when clinically appropriate AND that they will be subject to patient choice.

Face to face options, says the strategy, will be available for people who ‘do not wish’ to use virtual consultations.

The approach emerged at a meeting of the West Hertfordshire Hospitals Trust board on Thursday, September 2, where the five-year strategy was presented.

“The strategy has been amended to confirm that virtual consultations will only be used where clinically appropriate and that there will be face to face options available for those who are unable to use virtual platforms,” says the report.

Following the meeting, a spokesperson for the Trust told the Local Democracy Reporting Service they were keen to increase the number of online appointments – but that they would not suit everyone.

“Face to face appointments will always have a place in healthcare, whether this is because our patients choose to be seen this way or because this option is judged to be the most appropriate from a clinical point of view,” she said.

“Whilst we are keen to increase the number of online appointments across the board, we recognise that this does not suit everyone, which is why the offer of a face to face appointment remains.”

According to the Trust spokesperson anecdotal feedback on virtual appointments with the hospital – either by phone or video – is, on the whole, ‘very positive’.

And she says the convenience of remaining at home – as well as the ability of family members to join the call – has been ‘much appreciated’.

As a result of the pandemic the Trust is said to have ‘moved faster than we could have imagined towards phone or online methods of providing patient care’.

And that includes the setting up of the UK’s first virtual Covid hospital.

The ‘virtual hospital’ used technology to monitor Covid patients who remained at home – rather than being admitted to hospital.

And the use of technology meant medics were quickly alerted to any changes in the patient’s condition – prompting a home visit, a diagnostic test or, if necessary, admission to hospital.

The Trust’s ‘Clinical Strategy’ aims to develop and expand the ‘virtual hospital’ model further to include other conditions and specialities.

It also includes plans to ring-fence emergency theatre capacity, adopting a ‘get it right first time’ approach to reduce the movement of patients within the hospital and a move to seven-day working, where clinically and financially sustainable.

The Clinical Strategy 2020-2025 is designed to set out how the Trust will progress and to reflect the drive to improve the experience of patients and staff.