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8 July 2020

Counselling service adapts with virtual appointments

When face-to-face appointments had to switch to virtual ones, cardiac rehabilitation counsellors at Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust were already in a good position to make the change.

The counsellors had started using Skype for Business for patient sessions just a short time before the UK lockdown in March – wanting to provide flexibility for those who find it difficult to get to clinic appointments.

The team found that virtual appointments were helpful for many, including those who were recovering after heart surgery or ill health, shift workers and parents with childcare responsibilities.

Cardiac Rehabilitation Service Counsellor Susan Walley said: “We were quite familiar with the process by the time we were compelled to work from home.

“We supported patients with instructions on how to join a meeting. Occasionally, a patient might have difficulty getting on for the first time, but we usually call them on the phone the first time to help them through the procedure and, from then on, most patients find it quite straightforward. If we are unable to connect through Skype, we have an agreement that we will continue with phone.

“During lockdown we have found we prefer Skype to phone, as it is the closest we can get to actually being in a room with someone.”

The cardiac rehabilitation counsellors wanted to make sure they were giving patients the best possible service and so signed up for course on how to do counselling online, run by the  British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and the Open University.

Susan said: “Patients have, on the whole, responded extremely well to Skype and apart from the occasional technical difficulties – usually at the beginning, have engaged with virtual counselling very effectively and given us excellent feedback.

“We know virtual counselling doesn’t work for everyone. Some patients might not be able to talk freely when at home, for example. They might have a partner there, or children running around, so it would not suit all patients. Going forward, we need to think about offering various options.”

The service, which covers Thanet, Shepway, Ashford, Dover and Deal and Canterbury, is usually based at St Augustine’s in Westgate-on-Sea and at Trinity House in Ashford. During lockdown counsellors have been home-based.