Patients should call in advance where possible before showing up at A&E departments, the health secretary has said.
‘From now on, all consultations should be tele-consultations unless there’s a compelling clinical reason not to,’ he said.
‘Of course if there is an emergency, the NHS will be waiting and ready to see you in person, just as it always has been.
‘But if they are able to, patients should get in contact first via the web or by calling in advance.
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‘That way, care is easier to manage and the NHS can deliver a much better service.
‘Not only will it make life quicker and easier for patients but free up clinicians to concentrate on what really matters.’
He said there ‘always has to be a system for people who can’t log on, but we shouldn’t patronise older people by saying they don’t do tech’.
He added there have been dramatic changes to the way the NHS works since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and things must not be allowed to go backwards.
‘The vast majority of people can go online and a very large swathe of society prefers to do these things online,’ he said.
‘And that actually leads to a better service to those who need face-to-face treatment, to the extent that it frees up time.
‘We do provide face-to-face where needed, whether that’s because you need a physical interaction to give the healthcare, obviously, or because somebody doesn’t want to.
‘But we also make available Zoom medicine.’
Mr Hancock added he wants to ’empower people everywhere in the NHS’.
‘If you’re a porter, thinking about how you can use technology to optimise your routes around the hospital, or if you’re a ward matron thinking about how you run your ward, get on and make the improvements,’ he said.
‘And, if you’re part of the management structure, empower people to make those improvements and let them get on with it and the system will back you.’
The ‘Zoom medicine’ approach is expected to be part of Mr Hancock’s new NHS People’s Plan to be rolled out at the end of the year.
Measures will include the delivery of test results via WhatsApp and the linking together of patients’ GP records. It is also thought the four-hour A&E waiting time target could be scrapped.
But some health experts have expressed concerns about the focus on technology when some people are still unable to access it.
Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: ‘The RCP has been at the forefront of arguing for using technology to transform the way in which services are provided, for the benefit of patients and the environment, but the Government and the NHS must make sure that they bring everyone with them on this journey.
‘In a recent survey, 50% of our members told us that they didn’t have access to a webcam.’
Edel Harris, chief executive of the learning disability charity Mencap, said: ‘Technology is wonderful, but not everyone can access it.
‘The UK’s 1.5 million people with a learning disability should be offered face-to-face consultations automatically – without needing to ask for them.
‘This is a reasonable adjustment and we will be asking NHS England to ensure this happens – starting with annual health checks.’
It comes as the UK is feared to have a second wave of coronavirus coming which is much worse than the first, with scientists warning there could be up to 120,000 deaths in hospitals.
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