- in Technology
A roll-out of video health consultations across Wales, in response to the outbreak, has been given the go-ahead.
People will need a smartphone, tablet or computer with a webcam running Chrome or Safari browsers to use it.
The technology has already been trialled in the Aneurin Bevan health board area since last summer.
The aim is for people to be able to speak to their GP or health centre without leaving home.
“This technology will help people access healthcare advice from their homes, particularly if they are self-isolating because of the virus, while helping the NHS cope with an increase in demand,” said Health Minister Vaughan Gething.
Attend Anywhere is being paid for by the Welsh Government’s £50m digital priorities investment fund for NHS Wales and the Welsh Government has now asked for it to “aggressively roll out” to GPs across Wales.
Mike Ogonovsky, Aneurin Bevan’s assistant director of informatics, said it was “because of coronavirus, but also because of public anxiety and not wishing to physically attend the practice”.
It will be up to surgeries to decide how and when the system is used – and “that will be becoming more and more apparent over the coming weeks as we deploy,” he added.
“No-one is going to be forced to use video conferencing in terms of practices or in terms of patients.”
Teams in all health boards will be set up and training instructions for GPs are being finalised, Mr Ogonovsky said.
It aims for better image quality than existing services such as Skype and Facetime – and to allow people to use it without an account.
Alun Walters, a GP based in Tredegar with 16 years’ experience, will be one of the first to use the system when it is introduced this week.
“It’s quite intuitive to use. As long as you’ve got an internet connection or a smart phone, you can use it. From a GP point of view it looks very easy to use with good quality,” he said.
“We have had some cases phoning through for advice. At the minute we are probably not any more busy than we would have been in a normal flu season, but obviously things can change.”
One GP surgery in Conwy is trying to stop patients queuing up for morning appointments and has asked them to call first.
Technology What else has been happening?
So far, there have been 25 confirmed cases of the virus in Wales, out of 596 in the UK – with people with new symptoms of a cough or fever asked to self-isolate for a week.
The UK is switching to tactics aimed at delaying its spread, rather than containing it.
The UK’s chief medical officers, including Dr Frank Atherton in Wales, have written to doctors warning that coronavirus will put healthcare under “extreme pressure” which will “inevitably be exacerbated by staff shortage due to sickness or caring responsibilities”.
They urge healthcare professionals to be “flexible in what they do”, warning that it may “entail working in unfamiliar circumstances or surroundings, or working in clinical areas outside of their usual practice for the benefit of patients and the population as a whole”.
The World Health Organization has labelled the outbreak as a pandemic, reflecting the spread of coronavirus over many countries.
Meanwhile, Plaid Cymru has cancelled its spring conference in Llangollen which was due to take place on 20 and 21 March, while Labour has cancelled its Welsh conference the following weekend in Llandudno.
Plaid leader Adam Price also called for the Six Nations match between Wales and Scotland in Cardiff on Saturday to be postponed.
He said “all mass gatherings” should be postponed or cancelled with immediate effect.
He said the “safety” of vulnerable and “at risk” citizens should be “put before everything else”.
The PCS union has criticised a “lack of a robust response” at the Office for National Statistics (ONS) after a manager tested positive for the virus.
It said there had not been a closure of the office for a deep clean at the Newport base, while the person affected had also visited the ONS’s other main site in Titchfield, Hampshire in the week before the diagnosis.
PCS national officer Darren Williams said: “The paramount concern of any responsible employer in a situation like this should be for the safety and wellbeing of staff, rather than ‘business continuity'”.
An ONS spokesman said: “The safety and wellbeing of all our people is our main priority. We have taken appropriate steps in line with official public health and government guidance. ONS offices remain open and we continue to monitor our operations.”