Coronavirus is testing healthcare

systems worldwide to the limit

cannot attend the clinic; reducing the number of patients coming to GP surgeries (avoiding exposure to patients who may be unknow- ingly carrying the virus); allowing GPs to work remotely either due to quarantine or reducing their infection risk; and allowing ad- ditional healthcare support when there is a significant outbreak of the virus (including out of hours, acute and primary care). Te step up in the government’s

digital healthcare plans comes only months after it breathed new life into its Digital Health and Care Strategy, which launched in 2018 as a ‘bold, ambitious and en- terprising’ plan to use technology to reshape and improve services, support person-centred care, and improve outcomes. Speaking on a panel discussion

at Digital Health & Care Festival last November in Glasgow Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said the general public had high expectations of how digital tech- nology should be used, in terms of providing healthcare tools, help- ing them manage conditions and illnesses and finding out informa- tion about their own health or of members of their family. Since its launch the Digital

already stretched services, but it also raises a logistical problem of how to test and treat patients, when they can’t walk through the doors of their GP surgery or hospital. It’s no surprise then that the

Scottish Government’s ambitions for digital healthcare reforms have been given renewed impor- tance. Caroline Lamb, the recently

appointed Scottish Government’s Director for Digital Reform and Service Engagement has now written to all NHS chief execu- tives in Scotland confirming the rapid acceleration of NHS Near Me, a service which uses video conferencing to allow health providers to have virtual meet- ings with patients. A note to NHS boards said the programme was being rolled out “as a matter of

urgency” and is appointing senior leads within each one to ensure a coordinated approach. NHS Near Me was introduced

by NHS Highland, with video consultations significantly help- ing provide people in more remote areas with better access to health facilities. Te process had already been started to take the service to other parts of Scotland, but now this move has become more urgent. A total of £1.24 mil- lion has been put in to scale up the service as the government an- nounced measures to bolster the NHS’ response to the pandemic (which also includes bringing back retired health professionals). Speaking to the media after

the announcement, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the service will be more important as more people are advised to stay at

home. She added: “It will also help relieve the pressure parts of our health service will be under. It’s important technology for the longer term but may have particular application in these challenging weeks and months that lie ahead of us.” NHS Near Me, is powered by

Attend Anywhere, a platform founded in Australia. Other iterations of the software are also being launched in other areas of the UK. Guidance handed to health

boards and GPs says NHS Near Me will not be appropriate for all consultations but it may be beneficial for: providing ad- ditional clinical information for patients with flu-like symptoms who have contacted their GP or NHS 24; patients with confirmed coronavirus or quarantined who

Health and Care Strategy has faced some criticism of having been allowed to drift, so the ap- pointment of Caroline Lamb, who has been seconded from her role as chief executive of NHS Educa- tion for Scotland (NES), gives the strategy something of a new start. Lamb led a digital transformation at NES, which included develop- ing the TURAS platform, which makes it easier for healthcare professionals to share information and resources more easily. Lamb is the first standalone

director within government charged with delivering the digital health and care reforms and her appointment was an- nounced with high expectations. Speaking at the same conference as the Health Secretary, Malcolm Wright, Director General, Health & Social Care at the Scottish Government said Lamb’s ap- pointment was “a very tangible commitment from government to increase the pace and scale of the reforms that are taking place.” l


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