The Scottish Government’s Near Me team, part of the national Technology Enabled Care programme, has just launched a public survey to find out what people think about the NHS Near Me video consulting system and how it could be improved. The Government’s vision is that all health and care consultations in Scotland are provided by Near Me whenever it is appropriate. It is already making a significant difference for deaf people’s access to services, as we explain below.
Many deaf people are more socially isolated now than before the coronavirus crisis because of the additional communications barriers forced on them by the lockdown. deafscotland says that Near Me is helping to ease the vulnerability deaf people have been experiencing during the pandemic. The use of video consultations in Scotland has rapidly escalated since the pandemic started. Prior to March, there were around 300 video consultations using the Near Me system; by June, there were almost 17,000 every week, with around 150,000 in total. And it’s thought that includes around 30,000 people who have hearing issues.
In a guest blog for VHS last month deafscotland’s Chief Officer Janis McDonald described Covid-19 as a communications virus and highlighted the significant impact on many people affected by deafness. The use of face masks muffles the voice and covers the mouth, preventing lip-reading, and physical distancing created barriers beyond the effective one-metre range of hearing aids. More recently she has commented, “Like everyone else, people with a hearing loss need access to healthcare but that would have been extremely difficult without video conferencing,” because the pandemic has meant far fewer face-to-face consultations with doctors and other health and care professionals, and telephone consultations aren’t an option for many deaf people. “Near Me has provided a vital lifeline to health services and we would welcome its continued use when the current crisis ends.”
The public survey asks a range of questions relating to Near Me and the Government plan to publish the findings alongside other feed-back, which will then influence the future use of Near Me.
The survey is open from 29th June to 24th July 2020.