A new service connecting hospital patients virtually with their loved ones has been hailed a success and will now be rolled out across the north-east.
Virtual visiting allows patients to connect to their friends and family using iPads owned by NHS Grampian while they are in hospital, if they don’t have access to their own smartphone or tablet.
It also helps those who may be too ill or frail, or are not confident using the technology, as ward staff can support them.
Wi-fi has also been enabled in hospitals to ensure everyone can connect.
Virtual visiting was introduced after visits to all healthcare sites across the north-east were suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The service has been trialled across 25 wards so far, and will now be rolled across all hospital sites after positive feedback from staff and patients.
It’s anticipated that this will take place over the next few months.
Elaine Pyper is the senior charge nurse at Morningfield House at Woodend Hospital, one of the pilot wards for the project.
She 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 well being 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.”
Keep up to date with the latest news with The Evening Express newsletter
Selected wards within Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, the neuro rehab, links unit, wards 16 and 17 and Morningfield House at Woodend Hospital currently support the initiative as well as several wards at Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin.
Virtual visits can also take place at Dufftown Community Hospital, the Jubilee Hospital in Huntly, Peterhead Hospital, Kincardine Community Hospital in Stonehaven, Inverurie Hospital and the Fraser and Muick wards at Royal Cornhill Hospital.
Alzheimer Scotland nurse consultant Lyn Irvine, who is based at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, praised the scheme.
She 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.”
She added: “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.
“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.”
Patients have also spoken highly of the scheme.
Jim Cameron, 84, used virtual visiting while being cared for at Morningfield House.
He 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.”
Virtual visiting has been made possible with a £100,000 donation from the Klondyke Fishing Company to the NHS Grampian Endowment Fund, as well as other companies donating iPads such as DPD and the Oil and Gas Technology Centre.