The move to virtual appointments was the most significant change to health services during lockdown, according to more than 3,000 patients, members of the public and NHS staff across Kent and Medway.

NHS Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) engaged with patients, frontline staff, clinicians, partners in local authorities and the voluntary and community sector, as well as local communities via staff and patient surveys, interview focus group discussions or meetings.

More than 1,100 patients reported they had experienced a telephone consultation during lockdown with 83 per cent of those saying they were ‘quite or very satisfied’ with the change, while 86 per cent of those who had experienced a video appointment stated they were ‘quite or very satisfied’.  

Dr Navin Kumta, Clinical Chair at NHS Kent and Medway CCG, said: “This was an important exercise to gain an insight into the dramatic changes that took place within the NHS during the peak of Covid-19. We wanted to collect initial feedback to help us make decisions about restarting services while coronavirus is still present, as well as to plan for the future improvement of services.

Dr Navin Kumta, Clinical Chair at NHS Kent and Medway CCG.

“In order to keep both staff and patients safe, it was important to move to more virtual appointments and I’m pleased the results show the majority of people were happy with this change. But there’s also a clear message that virtual appointments cannot be the only option.”

One patient reported feeling ‘listened to and less rushed than in a clinic’ when called by a consultant and also found not having to travel was helpful. However, an East Kent patient said telephone appointments were difficult as they were deaf and normally lip read while a patient from West Kent said they were ‘inconvenient and damaged confidentiality’.

Dr Kumta continued: “Face-to-face appointments have been available throughout the pandemic for those who need them and will continue to be; we are very aware that virtual consultations are not appropriate for every patient. However, I would like to remind patients that although there is a perception that a knowledge of technology is needed, the majority of virtual appointments are actually carried out by phone.”

Both patients and staff reported that a benefit of lockdown was people now putting more consideration into how they use the NHS. An out of hours doctor claimed they were ‘seeing fewer inappropriate patients in A&E and GP surgeries’ while a member of staff in primary care thought patients had been ‘empowered to manage themselves with simple things like dressings rather than attending weekly clinics’.

Dr Kumta concluded: “The NHS is working extremely hard to restart services and we must make sure we communicate that. Many staff and patients reported being overwhelmed with information during the height of the pandemic so that is a lesson for the future. As we head into winter and with Covid-19 cases increasing, we need to make sure we are doing all we can to support the healthcare system to look after our communities.” 

A summary of the engagement activity, as well as the individual reports, can be viewed at www.kentandmedwayccg.nhs.uk/patient-experience-covid-19