One-by-one the faces appeared on the screen. They had one thing in common – all were patients battling with cancer. 

COVID-19 had severely impacted their planned treatment and anxiety levels were high. Now they were being asked to use technology in a way they had never thought of: by taking part in a Video Group Consultation (VGC) direct from their own homes. 

Maggi Bradley, a General Practice Nurse (GPN) at Aughton Surgery, in West Lancashire, and the Clinical Nurse Lead for the Enhanced Training Hub in Sefton, was running the session with a representative from Macmillan Cancer Support. She remembers it well. 

“Many of my cancer patients were midway through their treatment and had weakened immune systems,” she recalled. “While COVID-19 was and is a major concern for everyone, for these patients it was doubly so. They really needed support. 

“There is considerable evidence that by bringing together patients who are experiencing the same clinical problem, for a combined consultation, they not only learn from the medical professional, but also from each other – creating communities of care and mutual support. 

“Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, we were working on plans to hold face-to-face group consultations but clearly this could no longer happen. I had already begun trialling video group consultations with different sets of patients and saw that that this was an opportunity to meet a critical need. 

“Of course, it was to be expected that people would be initially wary about using a technology that was new to them and discussing their condition in front of non-medical people, but once their initial concerns were laid to rest, we found that people really found value in VGCs and asked for more sessions to be planned.” 

Preston-based Redmoor Health and the Experience Led Care (ELC) programme are currently running a regional VGC training programme for Sentinel practice GPs and practice nurses in England to help them support and manage continuity of care for patients with long-term health conditions. Maggi is one of these Sentinel practice nurses to be trained by them to use the supporting technology. 

As well as being a more efficient use of a clinician’s time, VGCs support patients to self-manage their condition and help to tackle feelings of isolation that many people living with chronic health issues experience.  

Maggi added: “VGCs are particularly useful for patients with long-term medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma and cancer, who would previously have been seen on a one-to-one basis. We found that these patients really benefited from ‘sitting alongside’ others with the same long-term condition.

“For example, in one diabetic clinic a patient shared his experience of a foot ulcer and there was an open and honest discussion about prevention and care of this unpleasant symptom.” 

Sessions are aimed at between 6-8 people and were set to be rolled out to cover other chronic conditions like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) when COVID-19 struck.  

Maggi said: “All our face-to-face work had to be stopped, but undeterred, we decided to take the sessions online. Redmoor Health and ELC provided us with the training we needed and we set about running the sessions on Microsoft Teams. 

“We’d always planned to take group consultations online but COVID-19 served to accelerate the process and so far, it’s worked pretty well, with sessions taking place for patients experiencing asthma and cancer. Patients soon found that they don’t need to be tech-savvy, even those who had been reluctant to request a repeat prescription online came along and found them easy to use.”   

Maggi considers VGCs to be a valuable additional tool to the practice nursing armoury. “Face-to-face meetings are often preferable, but where this isn’t possible or practical, and where there is a clear benefit in bringing people together – VGCs are greatly beneficial,” she said.