Most GP practices in the South East now have the ability to have video appointments with patients, after a programme to introduce the technology was accelerated in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

As part of the Long Term Plan for the NHS, NHS England and NHS Improvement’s Digital First programme was established to make use of technology to provide all patients with access to “digital first primary care”. The rollout of video consultation in response to coronavirus has allowed patients to easily access advice, support and treatment they need using digital and online tools. This means patients can now book and cancel appointments, have a consultation with a healthcare professional, receive a referral and obtain a prescription.

Sarah MacDonald, Director of Primary Care at NHS England and NHS Improvement, South East said: “Safe and secure video appointments are an important way for the NHS to ensure that it is still there for the people that need it during the coronavirus pandemic. As many people are becoming more confident with using video calls to chat with friends and family, this service has really taken off in primary care too. The many benefits for patients in terms of convenience and reduced travel mean that video appointment will continue to be there as an option for them in the future too”

Melissa Ream, Artificial Intelligence Adviser for Kent Surrey Sussex Academic Health Science Network and National AHSN, said: “We knew we had to respond to coronavirus rapidly, and very quickly had an understanding of the size of the challenge with how many GP Practices needed support with infrastructure, training, resources and workforce needs, and we were able to address any barriers promptly.

“The number of video appointments has risen each month since the social distancing guidelines across the South East came into effect. Verified baseline data from the beginning of April showed video appointments were available in 89% of GP practices in the South East. As of last week, 99% of practices had video appointment capability. Bringing many different parts of the NHS together across the region, the NHS has delivered an objective planned for 2021 in just a couple of months.”

Video appointment technology helps patients to continue to access general practice services remotely while they are social distancing unless a face-to-face appointment is necessary. Benefits of video appointments include minimising travel, supporting isolated communities and reducing the spread of infection.

Video consultations are just a part of the digital offer available to patients. Patients can also use online consultations to ask questions, report symptoms and upload photos securely online and their GP practice can respond by phone or email or, in some cases, arrange a video consultation if the GP feels it is needed. Across the South East there has been a significant increase in the number of practices able to provide online consultations, rising from 70% of practices on 2 April to 90% by the end of May.