A new initiative of ‘virtual care home rounds’ is being rolled out across Blackburn and Darwen after a successful trial involving Redmoor Health.

Redmoor has been advising Julia Mullaney, an advanced nurse practitioner at Darwen Health Centre, who wanted to do something to reduce the risk of coronavirus being transmitted to vulnerable residents.

After a successful pilot with Moorland View Care Home, in Darwen, it is now going to be expanded into care homes across the borough.

Explaining how the idea came about Mullaney said: “Like other GP surgeries across the country, Darwen Health Centre introduced a total remote triage system for GP appointments because of Covid-19.

“Instead of coming into the surgery, patients would have a video or telephone consultationand the feedback was really positive.

“We have elderly patients in seven care homes across Darwen and I thought technology presented a safer and more convenient option for them than a doctor or nurse visiting them to reduce footfall in the homes, especially during Covid-19.”

Mullaney has previously worked with Preston-based digital strategy consultancy Redmoor Health, which supports the Digital First Primary Care Programme commissioned by the Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care System (ICS), and underwent training with them on how to use the Microsoft Teams video conferencing software.

“I’m a digital champion but Covid-19 has forced other people to adopt technology quicker than they might otherwise have done out of necessity,” she said.

After consulting with her colleagues atDarwen Health Centre she joined forces with Gareth Lievesley, owner of 32-bed Moorland View Care Home, to run a trial.

Lievesley explained: “A couple of months ago I could see the problem caused by Covid-19. Resident and staff safety is paramount and we already wear face masks in Moorland View. My fear was that not only would it be harder to see a doctor it would increase the risk of Covid-19 spreading if they came into the care home.

“I’m not very tech-minded so I was discussing it with my 13-year-old son Daniel and he suggested Microsoft Teams which, along with Zoom, I’d never even heard of before Covid-19!

“We did our first virtual care home round on Microsoft Teams three weeks ago and it proved really popular. At first some of the residents were perplexed when Julia’s face appeared on the laptop but they quickly got used to it.

“Now if I have a particular concern about a patient I can email Julia and set something set up. There haven’t been any reports of Covid-19 in Darwen’s care homes and it’s vital we continue to do everything we can to minimise the risk.”

Mullaney said patient safety remained their primary concern. “Patients had to consent to it in advance,” she said. “The consultations take place in a private room. We reviewed all our patients at Moorland View on a range of issues and it’s now going to be rolled out across other care homes in Blackburn and Darwen in the next month.”

The approach is helping general practices to meet new national requirements introduced in May to support care homes during the coronavirus pandemic, including providing weekly virtual care home rounds.

Marc Schmid, founder of Redmoor Health, said: “The number of deaths in the UK’s care homes as a result of coronavirus is an absolute tragedy.  We’ve previously worked with a number of GP practices in North Staffordshire that link up care homes with GP practices using the latest technology.

“What Julia Mullaney and Darwen Health Centre have done is use technology to reduce the risk of the virus being transmitted through unnecessary visits while continuing to offer a first-class service to patients.

“Covid-19 has changed primary care forever and it’s accelerated the adoption of tech solutions in the health service.”

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