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Inside Holyrood: Personal touch remains central to healthcare

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John Finnie.
John Finnie.

Highlands and Islands MSP for the Greens, John Finnie, argues for the human touch to remain central to healthcare

The Scottish Government recently published an independent study into the effectiveness of the NHS Near Me video consulting service during the Covid-19 pandemic, and I was delighted to see that the report was very positive.

Near Me allows patients to receive consultations from a range of health care professionals from their own home. Launched in 2016, NHS Highland played a pioneering role in the development of the service, which has been vital across the country during the pandemic.

Health boards across the country had to move swiftly to scale up the service when Covid-19 began to take hold, and the foundations laid by NHS Highland made that possible. It was important that access to healthcare continued even as the virus raged on and Near Me played a significant part in that. The report shows that feedback from staff and, crucially, patients was generally positive while also recommending areas to build upon once the pandemic is behind us

People in remote parts of the Highlands face obvious barriers to accessing health care just by geography, so if the technology pioneered by NHS Highland and deployed to great effect during the pandemic can play a part in healthcare delivery post-pandemic, then everyone will benefit.

But it can only ever play a part in providing healthcare. Technology should be embraced and welcomed where it can be used to enhance patient care, but the human touch must not be lost. Healthcare professionals will tell you the value of seeing a patient in person, and while Near Me can certainly reduce the need for such interactions, it can’t, nor should it, eliminate them entirely.

Mental health services are a prime example of an area where technology can be useful, but will never replace face-to-face interaction with a qualified professional, but that applies to all healthcare settings. When people are vulnerable or at their lowest ebb there will always be times when a video call simply won’t do the job.

It’s also important to ensure that as digital solutions become increasingly embedded into all our public services, that no one is left behind. Parts of the Highlands still don’t have access to the kind of broadband speeds needed to use many of these services, and it’s important that everyone has the digital literacy needed to access them.

There is an occasional tendency in aspects of government and business which views technology as a panacea, and it simply isn’t. In its worst guise, this attitude can be used as a mask for very serious cuts to services. NHS Highland should be lauded for its role in developing Near Me, but the personal touch must remain central to health care.

To read more on Near Me click here

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