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NHS Scotland sets out recovery plan

Plan includes ensuring digital choices are always available, scaling up online consultation app and accelerating technology adoption in the NHS

The Scottish government has set out an NHS Scotland recovery plan, aiming to renew the country’s health service and address backlogs, following a challenging time during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The plan, to which the government is committing £1bn, aims to reform the Scottish NHS, including increasing the uptake of digital systems and services.

“The increase in digital – planned for before the pandemic, and significantly accelerated as part of our response to the pandemic – means the time is now right to ensure that digital is always available as a choice for people accessing services and staff delivering them,” the plan said.

“This will allow more people to manage their condition at home, to be able to carry out pre- and post-operative assessments remotely, and to continue to manage their recovery from home.”

The use of telehealth and video consultations increased dramatically during the pandemic. Although NHS Scotland has a key aim of restoring face-to-face GP appointments as soon as possible, it will also scale up the use of virtual consultations through apps such as NHS Near Me, pumping £3.4m a year into increasing the use of the video consultation service.

“Prior to the pandemic, usage of NHS Near Me was limited to around 1,200 consultations per month, but with the rapid scale-up due to the pandemic, this now stands at 12,000 per week,” the plan said.

NHS Near Me was used particularly within mental health during the pandemic, with more than 6,300 video therapy consultations conducted through the app every week.

“A range of digital mental health services are offered, including self-guided computerised cognitive behavioural therapy in response to Covid,” the plan said.

“Feedback suggests that many patients prefer the convenience of digital access, although face-to-face treatment will always be needed and preferred by some. We will further expand the use of digital and telephone services and lock in new service innovations that have delivered good outcomes for people and ensured continuity of service provision.”

In other areas of the NHS, virtual appointments will also be scaled up, including virtual fracture clinics and digital dermatology.

The Scottish government is also working on its own version of the NHS App, which will allow people to view their medical record, book appointments and check medications. The government plans to publish a separate digital health and care strategy shortly.

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