The Covid 19 pandemic and the ensuing lock down has caused many patient appointments in GP surgeries and hospitals to come to a standstill. Although telephone consultations have been offered in some circumstances, a face-to-face appointment with full examination remains the most thorough way to diagnose new symptoms and worsening conditions for many patients.

NHS England and NHS Improvement have supported hospital Trusts in offering video consultations with patients as an alternative to face-to-face meetings with their doctors. University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust are now offering video consultations to some of their patients using NHS Attend Anywhere. This is a secure web-based platform for patients with pre-arranged video consultation appointments. The decision to offer this type of appointment is made by a medical professional depending on a patient’s individual care needs. The Derby Trust has confirmed that video consultations are “easy to use” and are “often more convenient – saving patients’ time and money”.

The Derby Trust confirmed in their May 2020 board minutes that since the introduction of phone and video consultations, there had been a dramatic shift towards using these options, with more than 40 teams using this in an effort to reduce the numbers of patients attending their hospitals.

The Derby Trust has indicated that there will remain a need to see some patients face-to-face, however they have said that there is also a benefit to patients to offer these types of appointments where possible and they hope that this is a change which will be maintained following the Covid-19 crisis.

At Freeths, we have years of experience in acting for patients with medical negligence claims. Although we welcome the use of technology as a means to benefit patients, we are concerned that there may be an increase in symptoms and worsening conditions being missed as a result of video consultations in the place of a face-to-face appointments.

It appears that a doctor will make a decision as to whether a video consultation is offered to a patient, however it is not clear whether a patient has any option to refuse a video consultation if they would still prefer a face to face appointment. Patient autonomy remains important and it is critical that the patient views should be taken into account. 

At Freeths we are aware from experience that many medical examinations of a patient should be performed physically by observing the patient and their body in person. Even when using up to date technology, connection issues and poor resolution images could make it difficult to have an effective conversation with a patient, and very difficult to examine them.

We have concerns that those patients who have a video appointment, and are then asked to come into hospital to be seen by a doctor, would then experience a further delay whilst waiting for that secondary appointment.

We have previously blogged about the enormous national backlog of pathology and radiology testing. This has been caused by the backlog of patients accumulated during the coronavirus, the limited equipment available and the reduced numbers of staff to cope with the demand. We also have concerns that those who require further diagnostic testing following a video consultation, would lead to further delays in a follow up face-to-face appointment.

We know from experience that it is important that those with health concerns are able to access the support and guidance they need in a timely manner. If you have any concerns that a medical condition has been missed or there has been a delay in any treatment, then please do get in contact with us as we may be able to assist you.

Although we are, for the time being, not able to meet clients in person, our specialist clinical negligence team at Freeths is here to support and advise clients. We are available for meetings and consultations via telephone, email, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype and any other digital platform that works for you.

If you are concerned about any treatment which you or a loved one has received, please contact our local team:-

Karen Reynolds, Partner on 0845 272 5677 or karen.reynolds@freeths.co.uk

Siobhan Genever, Director on 0845 030 5774 or Siobhan.Genever@Freeths.co.uk

Claire Cooper, Associate on 0845 274 6830 or claire.cooper@freeths.co.uk

Naomi Solomon, Associate on 0845 030 5742 or naomi.solomon@freeths.co.uk