Following the findings of a national patient survey, the Board of Community Health Councils (CHCs) Wales is urging health and care services to be vigilant to avoid creating barriers to care when implementing new digital technology and practices.
The pandemic has had a considerable effect on how we all access healthcare. Over the past year, many people have become accustomed to telephone calls and video consultations in place of going to their local hospital, or seeing doctors, pharmacists or other professionals in person. Some expect many of these practices may well stay with us for the foreseeable future, if not for good.
CHCs are an independent watchdog of NHS services within Wales. They encourage and enable members of the public to be actively involved in decisions affecting the design, development and delivery of healthcare for their families and local communities.
In a report detailing feedback gathered from patients across the country, CHC’s note that people’s experiences of getting NHS care using digital technology during the pandemic vary. It also asserts that new ways of delivering healthcare needs to embrace everyone rather than leaving anyone out.
John Pearce, Chair of the Board of Community Health Councils in Wales, said:
“The pandemic has changed us all and changed the world we live in. Over time, some things may go back to the ways we were used to and were comfortable with, but not everything will.
“We know that the NHS was not consistently using a wide range of different communication systems before the pandemic. Putting these in place, very quickly, during a pandemic, has been a challenge and there have been some significant issues to overcome.
“Despite this, new ways of working have in many instances been well received. While further work needs to take place to make this effective for more people, the continuation and any further expansion in these systems needs to be built on what people have to say about their experiences so far.”
Many respondents to the CHC’s survey stated that using digital technology, such as telephone GP consultations, video call appointments, and booking appointments online, has aided them in accessing suitable NHS care when it was needed. However, some people, who are often considered to be the most vulnerable, have revealed such practises have become yet another hurdle to overcome.
The CHC’s believes that feedback illustrates that not all change is an improvement for everyone. It is warning that health and care services need to make sure that change is not forced upon people, leaving them alienated from the care they need when they are feeling most vulnerable.
While the watchdog organisation does support the use of new technology to provide new ways and greater convenience for patients to access NHS care, it insists the use must be appropriate to meet the needs of patients and for those who wish to continue accessing care via traditional ways must be catered for.
John Pearce, continued: “Our survey shows that some people are already worried that they may be left behind, unable to get the care they need if technology becomes the only way of doing things.
“Welsh Government and care providers must accept that some will want to carry on having appointments they consider best meets their needs in the ways that they are used to and don’t want to feel forced to change.
“It’s essential that people are reassured that when they need to, they will still be able to sit down with a real person in a room rather than using a phone, screen or camera.”
The CHC’s report insists that Welsh Government and health services must engage with people and communities when thinking about introducing new ways for people to access their healthcare using technology.
In addition to ensuring that the views and experiences of patients are heard and acted upon, when designing and delivering services, the CHC’s also highlights that no patient should be prevented from accessing care due to a lack of broadband connection, or support to build confidence in using digital technology.
NOTE TO EDITORS
The Board of CHCs represents the collective voice of the 7 CHCs in Wales.
CHCs are the independent watch-dog of NHS services within Wales. They encourage and enable members of the public to be actively involved in decisions affecting the design, development and delivery of healthcare for their families and local communities.
Acting on behalf of their local population, CHCs routinely monitor the performance of NHS services in their area as well as respond to service developments and changes.
CHCs’s maintain a continuous dialogue with the public through a wide range of community networks, direct contact with patients, families and carers through enquiries, a Complaints Advocacy Service, visiting activities and through public and Patient surveys.
Each of the 7 CHCs in Wales represents the “Patient voice” within their respective geographical areas.