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NHS consultations should move online and to mobile phones – Hancock

Jonathan Brady

By Jane Kirby, PA Health Editor

All NHS consultations should be carried out by phone or video unless there is a good reason not to, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.

In a speech to the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), Mr Hancock said there have been dramatic changes to how the NHS works as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and some things must not be allowed to go backwards.

He said the NHS “must not fall back into bad habits” and “we cannot and will not revert back to before”, saying there needs to be a shift towards “Zoom medicine”.

He said: “From now on, all consultations should be teleconsultations unless there’s a compelling clinical reason not to.

“Of course if there is an emergency, the NHS will be waiting and ready to see you in person just as it always has been.

“But if they are able to, patients should get in contact first via the web or by calling in advance.

“That way care is easier to manage and the NHS can deliver a much better service.

“Not only will it make life quicker and easier for patients but free up clinicians to concentrate on what really matters.”

Mr Hancock said “the vast majority of people can go online and a very large swathe of society prefers to do these things online”.

He added: “And that actually leads to a better service to those who need face-to-face treatment, to the extent that it frees up time.

“We do provide face-to-face where needed, whether that’s because you need a physical interaction to give the healthcare, obviously, or because somebody doesn’t want to.

“But we also make available Zoom medicine.”

Mr Hancock said he wanted to “empower people everywhere in the NHS”.

He said: “So if you’re a porter, thinking about how you can use technology to optimise your routes around the hospital, or if you’re a ward matron thinking about how you run your ward, get on and make the improvements.

“And, if you’re part of the management structure, empower people to make those improvements and let them get on with it and the system will back you.”

Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the RCP, said: “The RCP has been at the forefront of arguing for using technology to transform the way in which services are provided, for the benefit of patients and the environment, but the Government and the NHS must make sure that they bring everyone with them on this journey.

“In a recent survey, 50% of our members told us that they didn’t have access to a webcam.”

Edel Harris, chief executive of the UK learning disability charity Mencap, said: “Technology is wonderful, but not everyone can access it.

“The UK Secretary of State’s announcement that all consultations should be teleconsultations, unless there is a compelling reason not to, could seriously exacerbate the health inequalities that already exist for people with a learning disability.

“The UK’s 1.5 million people with a learning disability should be offered face-to-face consultations automatically – without needing to ask for them.

“This is a reasonable adjustment and we will be asking NHS England to ensure this happens – starting with annual health checks.”