Covid: Millions of patient miles 'saved' during pandemic

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image captionPatients said virtual appointments were more convenient

Virtual appointments have dramatically reduced hospital outpatient journeys during the coronavirus pandemic.

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust said its patients travelled more than two million fewer miles between April last year and January.

Patients in Cumbria said virtual appointments saved time, expense and the need to take someone to help.

Staff found they could also be useful from a medical perspective, North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Trust said.

"NHS colleagues have also noticed the benefits, including our physiotherapy team who are able to see the patient's home and any obstacles that may be affecting them, where ordinarily the patient would have to describe this," a spokesperson said.

In January 2020 NHS England announced plans to use technology "to make up to 30 million outpatient appointments redundant, sparing patients thousands of unnecessary trips to and from hospital".

It estimated 6.7 billion miles were travelled each year to NHS sites.

Only 7% of Northumbria's appointments were held virtually in 2018-19 when it started a project to reduce patient miles. This has increased to nearly 45% in the past year.

An increase of 175,878 virtual appointments saved the South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust more than 3.3 million patient miles since March last year.

Newcastle Hospitals NHS Trust's modelling suggested patients were saving 30,000 hours each month, with 160 fewer tonnes of carbon emitted.

Walking and cycling charity Sustrans said it was "vital" the benefits continued after lockdown.

CEO Xavier Brice said: "If the pandemic has shown that more appointments can be carried out virtually whilst maintaining standards of patient care then that is one positive outcome to build on for the future."

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