While the pandemic has kept us apart, we’ve still found ways to be together when it matters most. As part of our Community Engagement Directorate’s virtual visiting scoping exercise to gather information about how hospital patients and their families stayed in touch when visits weren’t possible, Julie Davidson, a Community Engagement Officer in Dumfries and Galloway, reflects on how she’s learned to value technology when it comes to staying in touch.

There’s nothing better than a chat over a cup of tea and a biscuit. That bit of time between arriving at a meeting and the meeting starting, where you’re making brew and rummaging through the biscuit tin for something good to dunk in it, that’s when you find out the important stuff. It’s when you get to know what’s really going on, get to know your colleagues better and find out how things are with them.  But sometimes when you have to make a 140 mile round trip just to get to the tea, the biscuits and the meeting, you do start to wonder if there’s sometimes an easier way of doing things, as much as the effort to travel all those miles is appreciated by workmates and stakeholders alike.

Face to face vs virtual meetings

Back before we had heard of COVID-19, I remember how excited/nervous/curious I was about the possibilities of using NHS Near Me, a video platform which was in many ways a forerunner to things like MS Teams.  One day when I realised I wouldn’t make it back from Stranraer to a meeting in Dumfries, NHS Near Me was suggested.  I had lots of thoughts about using it.  Would I able to contribute as normal?  Would my colleagues forget I was there?  Turns out it was fantastic.  I felt fully involved, and from then on used it when I couldn’t make meetings due to time and distance.  It helped me stay connected and attend several meetings in one day. It saved me a day out of the office!  Yet I did miss the long drives which helped me gather my thoughts. I missed catching up face to face with colleagues. Can anything beat face to face contact and the interaction it allows?

Well, almost. There’s certainly a lot things it can make easier. Using Near Me worked so well for me, I started thinking it would be great to attend GP appointments this way. Little did I know how prescient that thought was! Near Me has now been used with patients and service users throughout this pandemic, helping people attend GP and hospital appointments from the comfort of their own home. This has been particularly helpful in a rural area like ours, where people rely on public transport, as in our experience, healthcare is often provided in Glasgow or Edinburgh. Now it can be provided in your own front room.

The value of visiting virtually

I support NHS Dumfries and Galloway volunteer peer support group sessions, which have continued through MS Teams during lockdown. Recently we’ve heard emotional stories from NHS volunteers about the impact not being able to visit is having on hospital patients and their loved ones. From having a family member in hospital during this time myself, I know first-hand just how important it is to stay in touch. Technology has provided us with the means to do so. People are Zooming, Facetiming, Whatsapping, Teaming. We’re visiting virtually.

Using technology in this way has been eye opening, and the possibilities are endless. Virtual visiting means it’s now possible for someone at the other end of the country, or indeed the other side of the world, to visit a loved one in hospital without all the stress of travelling and anxiety that you won’t get there at the right time.  Now that we are starting to come out the other side of lockdown, will these trends continue?  For me, there’s nothing like a face to face catch up, but no one ever said you couldn’t have a cuppa and a catch up virtually. Just watch out for biscuit crumbs on your tablet!

Julie Davidson is an Engagement Officer in Dumfries and Galloway

More information

To find out more about virtual visiting and contribute to Community Engagement’s scoping exercise, go to their website: