Deirdre Walsh (left) is a Post-CCT GP Fellow, Haxby Group and a Clinical Educational Facilitator, Hull York Medical School.
Domini James (right) is a GP Partner & Care Home Lead, Haxby Group, York.
NHS England-led changes to the way we deliver primary care to our care home residents were due to start in October 2020, however, due to the unexpected Covid pandemic, these changes were accelerated.1 Changes involved structural changes by allocating care homes to particular Primary Care Networks but also an emphasis on virtual home rounds with the use of information technology (IT) and a focus on personalised care.2
Haxby Group in York provides primary care to residents in nine care homes. The primary care and care home staff have worked tirelessly to bring the changes, as stipulated in the service specification, to fruition.3 As more than a year has now passed since the inception of these changes, and as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, we wished to reflect on these changes and draw upon these reflections to inform future care planning.
Changes involved structural changes by … an emphasis on virtual home rounds with the use of information technology (IT).
The responses were collated to capture the key themes.
Care home staff reflections:
Overall care home staff reported a positive experience of the changes. Most had embraced learning new skills such as taking physical observations to assist the clinicians during remote consultations. The reduced footfall in the care homes was felt safer from an infection control perspective. Both the staff and their residents appreciated the weekly nature of the virtual rounds and felt this nurtured continuity and personalised care but also enabled a higher volume of residents to be seen regularly.
The main challenges reported were their frustrations with the internet and IT equipment which frequently did not work effectively and therefore hindered remote consultations. They also felt that, although most residents embraced the new technology, some struggled due to cognitive impairment and/or sensory difficulties. There were concerns about the limitations of virtual consultations, in particular the risk of important things being missed due to the lack of face to face assessment.
Primary care staff reflections:
Our staff reported several positives with the virtual weekly rounds including improved continuity of care as staff had allocated care homes that they looked after and this therefore enabled good relationships to be established. The virtual rounds were felt to be more time efficient than face to face as less time was wasted on travelling and trying to find the patients and their notes. They commented on the reduced infection risk by reducing footfall in the homes and also felt that it was safer clinical practice by having the medical records to hand when consulting remotely.
The main concern and frustration was the lack of reliable internet and IT infrastructure.
In terms of future practice, there was a clear appetite amongst staff for a hybrid clinical approach to the way we deliver primary care to our care homes with a mix of remote and face to face interactions. Remote interactions were deemed helpful for meetings with specialists, for example Mental health teams and District Nurses, and for sending photos of skin lesions and reviewing patients on non-ward round days where possible. Remote consulting was also felt suitable for simple tasks such as medication changes, liaising with relatives and reviewing care plans.
It was felt that the GPs working in tandem with the PCPs as a ‘yin-yang’ relationship in the larger care homes was particularly effective. The GP could deal with the management of long term conditions, advanced care planning discussions and medication reviews whilst the PCP attended to the acute face to face assessments as required.
More time would need to be made available to do this effectively.
This reflective process highlighted the willingness of staff and patients to embrace change at a rapid pace. However, it also highlighted several areas of learning that must be considered when planning future care. In particular, the need for robust IT infrastructure to optimise remote consulting if this method of consulting is to stay post-pandemic.
With sincere thanks to all the care home staff and Haxby Group staff who kindly gave up their time to participate in this project.