Virtual NHS Consultations

recent survey for the British Medical Association showed that 95% of GPs are now offering remote consultations and 88% want to see greater use of them continue in the future.

Whilst people previously told us that they welcome the idea of the NHS making better use of new technology to help make care more convenient, people’s experiences of telephone, video, and email consultations to date have been more mixed.

For some, they are working well, and many previously sceptical individuals have been converted following a positive experience. For others, these types of appointments have introduced new barriers to care.

So how can we make sure that this revolution in the way care is delivered works for everyone?

What makes a virtual appointment good?

Last week Healthwatch England published the findings of some rapid research conducted in partnership with Traverse and National Voices. Involving people who have had a virtual consultation during the pandemic, this report provides useful insights for NHS services and individual clinicians.

Key findings and recommendations

Arranging a virtual consultation:

  • Feeling safe and comfortable – It’s important for people to feel safe, comfortable and that they have a confidential space in which to talk about their medical concerns. Most of those we spoke to hadn’t received any information in advance about how the appointment would work or what they could do to help. It would be useful for patients to be alerted to this fact beforehand so that they can prepare for their appointment.
  • Making the benefits known – Secondly, to realise the benefits of people not having to travel to appointments, patients need a reasonable time window for their appointment. Where people are not given this, it leads to increased frustration, with missed calls or unexpected delays creating anxiety.
  • Getting the format right
    Most of those we spoke to had telephone consultations, but a significant number felt that video would have been better.

We heard examples where people’s level of digital literacy had not been assessed before the appointment. There were also examples discussed where people felt remote consultations would never be appropriate, such as delivering bad news following a diagnosis.

During the appointment itself

Giving people the time they need

Whichever form of remote consultation is used, people were clear that it must not mean a compromise on the quality of the interaction. Appointments must not feel rushed, patients need to feel listened to and clinicians must have all the information they need to hand.

“I didn’t know what to expect. The physio created space to ask about how I was doing. I felt heard and was able to ask questions. It was refreshing. A normal physio session would be in a crowded room, five minutes instructions, you practice the movement, they pop back after seeing other people and ask you how you are getting on, it’s rushed. I see about 15-20 health professionals a year and this is the most person-centred session I have had.”

– Maria, physiotherapy patient.

Test, learn and improve

Seek feedback

As with any significant change it is important to seek feedback and to learn from what works and what needs improvement. Yet most participants in our research reported that they weren’t asked for feedback about their remote consultation experience.When we asked them for suggestions, they identified many ways in which remote consultations could be made better. For example, enabling sessions to be recorded and played back later so people can confirm they have understood, or introducing closed captioning to help those with hearing loss.

Overall, one of the biggest learning points was around quality. While some people in the health and care system may see remote consultations as a way of delivering care more efficiently, it is clear that any impact on quality will likely see a significant drop-off in people willing to access care in this way.

Getting the most out of the virtual health and care experience

Our Strategic Plan for 2020-2022

The plan below sets out our plans for the next three years, as identified by the Healthwatch Northumberland Board.

We have three strategic aims which are the themes for our work over the lifetime of the strategy. Our work each year will be identified as meeting one or more of the aims.

Health: with the help of Healthwatch Northumberland, the views, knowledge and experiences of health service users and carers are listened to and influence changes and developments in health service in Northumberland.

Social Care: With the help of Healthwatch Northumberland, the views, knowledge and experiences of service users and carers are listened to and influence changes and developments in social care services in Northumberland.

Communication and Engagement: the people, service providers, commissioners and key stakeholders in Northumberland know, trust and are involved with Healthwatch Northumberland.


Read our Strategic Plan for 2020-2022

Hospital Discharge – Your Experience

To respond to coronavirus, hospitals in Northumberland and the north east had to quickly change. Tell us how this has affected the care you or your loved one has received.

If you’ve been receiving care in hospital there can be lots to think about when you’re getting ready to leave, such as any support you will need to help you manage your health and wellbeing.

During the coronavirus pandemic the usual processes hospitals follow to discharge you from their care changed to help free up beds. Because of this, if you’ve been in hospital recently you should have:

·        been discharged within two hours, once you no longer need hospital care

·        had your care and support needs assessed once you have left hospital

·        been moved to the first available bed in a care home, if you cannot go home

·        had any further care or support you need fully funded by the NHS

While these changes have successfully got people out of hospital and helped the NHS manage the demand created by coronavirus, we don’t know how the new processes are working for both patients, their families and healthcare professionals.


If you or your loved one is currently in hospital, find out what you should expect when being discharged in our advice and information article about leaving hospital.


Why should you share your experiences of care?

NHS and social care staff are doing everything they can to support people through this pandemic, but they need your help to spot issues to make sure everyone receives good care.

We’re working with the British Red Cross to listen to your experiences of leaving hospital, so we can help NHS and social care services understand how the changes brought in during COVID-19 are affecting people’s health and wellbeing – both positively and negatively.

This is why we launched our campaign #BecauseWeAllCare, to encourage everyone to support the NHS recover by providing feedback about health services.

Tell us your views

Take a few minutes to tell us what happened when you or your loved one was discharged from hospital to improve care for everyone. You can also play your part in supporting the NHS to get back on track by sharing our survey with your friends, neighbours and networks.


Want to talk to someone about your experiences? We can provide you with advice and information about local health and care services. Get in touch.


Share your experiences at our Online Forums

As we will be unable to get out and about across the county to meet with and listen to people for a while, we’re holding some public online forums, and we’d like you to join us. All forums take place from 2.00pm – 3.00pm.

If you are unable to take part but would like to tell us about your experiences of these services, members of the team will be available by phone, text and email (see below) each Wednesday after the forums to listen, answer any questions and help with providing information about services.

The forums will take place via Zoom. Read our guide on how to use Zoom. If you would like help to set up Zoom on your device please ask.


Online Forums – all take place between 2.00pm and 3.00pm

Wednesday 20 May: Dementia Services

Wednesday 27 May: Adult Social Services (to include support to live independently, care homes, learning disability services)


Wednesday 3 June: Mental Health Services

Wednesday 10 June: Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

Wednesday 17 June: Maternity Services


Wednesday 1 July: Mental Health Services

Wednesday 8 July: NHS, Health and Social Care Services – any service you’ve used in the last 12 months

Wednesday 15 July: Unpaid Carers and Mental Health Services


Wednesday 12 August: Cancer Services


Wednesday 9 September: Children and Young People’s Services. Are you a voluntary or community organisation working with young people? If so, we’d like you to join us for an open discussion on children and young peoples services, particularly around mental health services.


Wednesday 18 November:  Dementia Services


If you would like to take part in a forum please contact Laura Kane,, or call 03332 408468. We can also help you set up Zoom on your device so please get in touch if you would like some guidance.

Annual Report 2019/20

Our Annual Report for the financial year 2019-20 is out now. Have a look to see what we’ve been up to, what people told us about their experiences of NHS, health and social care and how we made a difference to people in Northumberland.


Healthwatch Northumberland Annual Report 2019/20.

Understanding Patient Participation Groups

Healthwatch Northumberland commissioned research to help it understand how the Patient Participation Groups (PPGs) associated with the 41 GP practices in Northumberland currently work, their aspirations and challenges and the relationship they want to have individually and collectively not only with Healthwatch Northumberland but also the Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Primary Care Networks (PCN) and local community and voluntary groups. We also wanted to understand how we and PPGs can most effectively communicate and exchange information and views and how this can be used for the benefit of patients, their families and carers.

The research has identified several key areas where further discussion or action would help PPGs develop in a way that is appropriate for them. The recommendations at the end of the report form an agenda for those discussions and provide Healthwatch Northumberland with a series of actions we want to consider.

The research shows that PPGs want to engage with patients, with Healthwatch Northumberland and with the wider health community but for some this is difficult. PPGs see real benefits in engaging more widely and collaborating with others to improve the patient experience. Some PPGs would like to network and engage on a countywide basis whilst others would prefer to do this at a PCN level. This desire to collaborate must be nurtured by Healthwatch Northuberland and must be extended to include the CCG and the GP practices it commissions. There is a real opportunity for a partnership approach to help support PPGs and improve the patient experience and we will play a pivotal role in this.

The research also highlights several areas of challenge for PPGs. The key areas are:

• Recruitment and retention of members who are representative of the Practice Population and who are able to understand and represent the patient perspective and work with the practice to create improvements to service

• Engagement with patients and with the Practice to gather feedback in a meaningful way and to collaborate with the practice to use this feedback to best effect

• Time and to a lesser extent cost – to travel to meetings, to attend meetings at a time that is suitable and to contribute effectively both within and outside the meetings

51% of the PPGs in Northumberland completed the survey that formed the basis of the research and a further 4 provided information during telephone calls meaning HWN heard from 61% of the PPG population during the research period. One of the challenges for HWN is how it engages with the whole PPG community, particularly those who opted not to engage this time.

As PCNs develop, the role of the PPG will become more pivotal because these networks will need to understand the patient perspective and identify how they can develop services that, among other things, improve population health. Healthwatch Northumberland, along with the CCG, will have a role to play supporting both the PCNs and the PPGs. To be most effective we will need to ensure robust relationships with the CCG, PCNs and PPGs.

The report provides recommendations that are set in the context of the aims of the research and focus on the aspirations and challenges faced by PPGs and the way in which Healthwatch Northumberland can best engage to help address these.

Understanding Patient Participation Groups – read the full report.

Have a question about health and social care?


As we can’t hold our usual Meet and Greet session before the next Healthwatch Northumberland board meeting on Tuesday 23 June, we are inviting you to send us your questions instead.

If you use health or social care services in Northumberland or want to know more about Healthwatch Northumberland please send your question to Derry Nugent: by 5pm on Monday 22 June. We will answer your question within ten working days. Have a look at the agenda.

View Project Coordinator Derry Nugent’s video message below.

Ask the Board – Derry Nugent



Changes to how we operate

We are following government advice and guidelines in light of the coronavirus outbreak and have made changes to the way we operate. We have postponed all of the community events we had planned and from Monday 23 March our staff will be mainly working from home. We are still very much open for business, so if you want to give us feedback on a service you’ve used, or if you are looking for information on local health or support for a particular issue, you can call our signposting service. Get in touch on 03332 408468 or email

Our board meeting scheduled for 24 March will not physically take place, but our board members are very much working away in the background and discussing future plans for Healthwatch Northumberland.

We will keep you updated with our plans on our website, Facebook and Twitter pages as things develop nationally.

Latest NHS coronavirus guidance

Project to get Voices Heard

Last year we launched the Your Voice Fund, and awarded four small grants to local organisations which will run projects with their service users.

These projects will help us gather the views of people whose experiences we don’t hear enough about, in particular, people with learning disabilities, people from LGBTQ+ communities, young people, black, asian and minority ethnic communities and people living in Northumberland through asylum or refugee resettlement programmes.

Northumberland County Blind Association will be holding workshops and focus groups with 150 visually impaired people, bringing people’s experiences and views on health and social care services together in order to influence and inform service providers and decision makers.

Northumberland County Council Youth Council will use the grant to create wallet cards, digital graphics and posters to share with schools, youth and health settings to promote self-care and mental health support services that are available to children and young people.

A Creative Café will be held at Headway Arts in Blyth, for 30 people with a learning disability and their carers to discuss their experience of the healthcare system in a safe and supportive environment.  The event will be filmed and people’s thoughts presented through a video piece.

Being Woman, based in Ashington and Blyth, will also use the grant to support a conversation café activity called ‘KITES – when you are your own voice’. Here, 50 people from various ethnic backgrounds and at risk of social isolation can share ideas, thoughts and experiences of health and social care services which will be reported back to those running and paying for services.

Healthwatch Northumberland Project Coordinator Derry Nugent says “We’re really happy to work with these local organisations who can help us listen to the care experiences of those we don’t hear from very much. These projects will help us share people’s voices with the service providers and decision makers and help make services better for residents of Northumberland. “

Fareeha Usman, Founder of Being Woman says “This project will help underrepresented communities have their say on health and social care services, in a safe environment. The KITES cafe will help us remove barriers and promote equal access to local services to the migrant and BAME population in Northumberland.”

Allie Walton-Robson, Creative Director at Headway Arts says “We’re inviting people to come along to our Creative Café in Blyth on Thursday 21 May for a nice cup of tea, a chat and a chilled out creative workshop. This time we are working with Healthwatch Northumberland and focusing our chat on healthcare to offer disabled people a real chance to provide feedback on their experiences. On the day we will be welcoming people along to enjoy our beginners painting workshop using lovely vibrant colours and to try out print making with our PrintAble artists. It’s a relaxing session and also a time to talk about experiences whilst feeling supported to do so.”

We look forward to sharing the results of the project with you later in the year.