Gloucestershire GPs and care homes are developing new ways of working to offer continuing medical support to residents and keep people as safe as possible, despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

One innovation is the introduction of regular ‘virtual ward rounds’ to check on the health of residents and to identify any medical needs that individuals may have.

Because strong working relationships have already been established between GP practices and care homes, the foundations have been laid for a swift move to a digital way of working.

In most cases, virtual ward rounds are carried out by the Practices’ lead GP for the care home and the senior nurse or carer at the home.

The ward rounds vary in nature from a phone call to discuss all the patients with a focus on those highlighted by the care home, to a video ward round.

Many practices and care homes are now offering the video option, where care home staff visit each patient in turn with a tablet computer. In this way, the GP is able to speak with, and visualise, each person.

When issues arise, GPs are in a good position to be able to discuss the person’s needs with other clinicians, nurses and carers at the care home.

Patients are not only being seen virtually. GPs are visiting care homes and residents where necessary (using Personal Protective Equipment – PPE), sometimes as a result of identifying a medical need through a virtual ward round.

In every case, if a resident needs face to face medical support this will be arranged.

Many GP practices are planning to increase the regularity of virtual ward rounds and there is capacity to step this up to daily rounds in the event of Covid-19 cases being detected.

Urgent care lead at NHS Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group and local GP, Dr Jeremy Welch said:

“These are unprecedented times and as health and care teams we have to be ready to adapt to situations as they unfold.

It’s really important that we protect residents in care homes as much as we can as they can be amongst the most vulnerable people in our communities. However this doesn’t mean that they won’t get the care that they need during the Covid-19 pandemic.

We need to be certain, as care givers that we don’t put residents at increased risk by visiting them unnecessarily.

For this reason, many GP practices and care homes have introduced virtual ward rounds. This gives us the chance to understand clearly what medical help is needed by undertaking a thorough and safe review.”

Nick Coates, Registered Manager at Knightsbridge Lodge Care Home said:

“Understandably this is a time of great anxiety for families and carers, and it’s important that we can reassure them that as health and care professionals we are absolutely committed to giving our residents the best possible support and care.

We cannot control every aspect of the Covid-19 outbreak, but we can certainly make sure that we are doing all we can to minimise the spread of the virus, respond quickly to people’s health and care needs and keep them safe whenever we can.”