Virtual Visiting to be rolled out across NHS Grampian

A new Virtual Visiting service at NHS Grampian has been hailed a success by patients and staff during its initial test phase. The new scheme allows patients to virtually connect with family and friends using iPad tablets while they are in hospital.

Friday, 26th June 2020, 11:58 am
Jim Cameron, 84, and with no previous experience of facetime, has enjoyed participating in Virtual Visiting, connecting with family members over the last three weeks at Woodend Hospital.

Guest Wi-Fi has been enabled at hospitals across the north east to allow patients to use their own devices but the Virtual Visiting project takes that a step further by helping those who do not have their own device, are too ill, frail or aren’t confident in using the technology to connect using hospital supplied iPads and with support from ward staff.

Virtual Visiting was introduced after the announcement in March that physical visits to all healthcare sites were being suspended for the foreseeable future to protect patients and staff following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since then, the Virtual Visiting service has been trialled in 25 wards and now, after receiving enthusiastic feedback from patients and staff, the team in charge of the project said ambitious plans are being developed to roll out it out to all to all hospital sites over the next few months.

Elaine Pyper, senior charge nurse at Morningfield House, Woodend Hospital, which is one of the pilot wards, said: “While we know it will never be the same as a physical visit, virtual visiting is about putting in place the best alternative we can in the current situation and it’s already making a huge difference.

“As health professionals we know that patient recovery is about more than just their physical symptoms - emotional wellbeing and the right support from their loved ones plays a huge role.

“We see that with our patients every day which is why it was so important that we got the virtual visiting pilot off the ground quickly. There is also a vast amount of evidence that shows recovery time and treatment success is dramatically improved with the right support for patients.”

Lyn Irvine, Alzheimer Scotland nurse consultant, based at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, said: “During the pilot we’ve seen the dramatic impact virtual visiting can have many times already – I remember one patient in particular that staff were worried about who had begun to deteriorate and clearly felt isolated.

“After arranging a virtual visit for her, the change was remarkable and immediate – her spirits lifted, her appetite for the fight to get better returned and I’m really pleased that she is now on the road to recovery.”

As part of the formal evaluation of the project, patients have joined staff in their praise for the new initiative. One patient praised virtual visiting for allowing him to see his wife for the first time in eight weeks while others said seeing family members had made them “eager to get better and to get home”.

The evaluation also revealed that family members have also applauded the difference made by the new scheme while other patients highlighted simple steps like being able to virtually check in on pets in lifting their spirits while in hospital.

Jim Cameron, 84, said: “It was great to be able to connect with my family and to see their faces again. Its cheered me up no end and made me feel less isolated. It’s also helped reassure my family that I’m doing okay.

“I’d never used Facetime before so it took a little bit of getting used to but the staff were really helpful. It’s made being in hospital just now that much easier so I hope it is introduced to all hospital wards.”

Lyn added that the generosity of local people and businesses had been instrumental in getting the project off the ground.

“We’ve benefited from a large £100,000 donation from the Klondyke Fishing Company to the NHS Grampian Endowment Fund and received iPad’s from other companies including DPD and the Oil and Gas Technology Centre. It’s also been really challenging delivering a project like this in a matter of weeks,” Lyn said.

“There have been all sorts of things of challenges that we’ve needed to be work through including confidentiality, patient privacy and making sure the devices are equipped with the right security and encryption levels.

“There will be other difficulties as we look to increase the number of wards involved but, all in all, when you hear the positive feedback from patients and their families about the difference it is making, there is no doubt it is something we need to press ahead with.

She continued: “It will take time to roll out Virtual Visiting to all areas – most likely a few months but we are determined to do it as quickly as we can. We are also really grateful to people for their patience and understanding as we work to bring more wards online.”

Sheena Lonchay, manager for the NHS Grampian Endowment Fund, said: “Thanks to Klondyke Fishing Company, the concept of Virtual Visiting became a reality in a matter of weeks.

“This has made an enormous difference to families separated by COVID-19 who are now able to see each other when they can’t be together.”