New figures released today reveal that almost 12,500 patients across the Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board (CTMUHB) region have still been able to receive medical consultations during the Covid-19 pandemic, despite not being able to visit the GP surgery or other healthcare setting in person.

Over the last 12 months, a total of 12,471 patients in CTMUHB used the NHS Wales video consulting service, which allows patients to connect with healthcare professionals including GPs, nurses, dentists, pharmacists and opticians, via video call using their computer, tablet or smartphone.

Latest figures from TEC (Technology Enabled Care) Cymru have revealed that, across all Welsh health boards, over 139,500 virtual consultations have taken place over the last year.

As well as enabling medical professionals to continue advising and treating their patients safely throughout the pandemic, the service has also brought added environmental and convenience benefits. In total, 558,118 patient travel miles and 12,350 hours of travel time were avoided by holding the consultations online, as well as saving 163,977kg of carbon dioxide by removing the need for patients to travel to appointments.

Dr Alka Ahuja, Virtual Consultation Clinical Lead at TEC Cymru, said: “Video consulting has made a huge difference to patients and health care professionals, ensuring that the NHS has been able to continue to deliver safe and timely care during the pandemic.

“Feedback from patients and clinicians shows it is convenient, saving travel, money and time. Video consulting is here to stay and will be one of the ways that people will continue to receive health care not just now, but for the future.”

Gareth Robinson, chief operating officer at Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board, said: “The way that our patients have been able to access the NHS has changed considerably over the last year but thanks to everyone’s hard work and readiness to adapt to using online technology, we have been able to make sure they are still getting the healthcare and support they need.

“Video consultations are usually offered to patients when the healthcare professional who they are trying to contact wants more information than a telephone call can provide.

“Even for those who are not comfortable with technology, setting up a virtual consultation is safe and secure, and patients can see their doctor, nurse, optician or pharmacist through their phone, tablet or computer, with no need for installations or downloads.”

Patient feedback for the virtual consultations service has been encouraging, with all-Wales data showing that 92% of all patients rated the consultations as ‘excellent, very good or good’ and 91% of patients said they would use the virtual consultation service again.

The Welsh Government accelerated the rollout of the NHS Wales video consulting service throughout 2020 to help the health service in tackling Covid-19 but the service will continue to be widely available after the pandemic ends, to allow patients to access healthcare in a convenient and timely manner.

Virtual consultations are proving particularly successful in care homes across the CTMUHB region, where an online system is being piloted to enable residents to access the healthcare they need via an electronic tablet.

Clare Flesher, a community nursing practitioner from Aberdare, has been using the Attend Anywhere app to facilitate virtual GP consultations with elderly care home residents while conducting her routine visits to homes across the region.

“The beauty of Attend Anywhere is that it allows me to work closely with the GPs to make important decisions about the residents’ care without having to arrange a face-to-face consultation,” Clare said. “Previously, if we’d been with a patient and needed to get a GP’s opinion, we would have had to call the surgery and wait for a doctor to become available. The doctor would then have to go out to the patient and we would have to revisit them later in the day, to replace bandaging, for example.

“With the new system, we can just dial into the practice via the app and our calls will be prioritised so the patient gets seen much more quickly. It saves so much time and the feedback has been really positive.”

Dr Owen Thomas, GP at The Health Centre in Aberdare, said this was a great example of how the NHS had adapted to help people to access healthcare in the most effective way.

“One of the biggest pressures on the NHS, aside from the obvious challenges that have been presented by the Covid pandemic, is that patients often book a GP appointment when their condition doesn’t necessarily require a doctor’s involvement at all. By continuing to use virtual consultations in the future, we can cut down on the number of unnecessary appointments and help us ensure that patients can continue to be seen in the right way.”

Over 12,500 patients had online medical consultations in first year of pandemic