Patients may see doctor by Skype under Whittington Hospital plans for treatment at home

Patients could end up seeing their consultants by Skype, phone or e-mail if the Whittington Hospital succeeds in treating more people at home.

The hospital, which plans to cut costs by reducing beds and moving care into the community, insisted many patients would be able to receive just as good care by speaking to their doctor over the computer or on the phone.

Dr Greg Battle, Whittington Health’s executive medical director for integrated care, said: “Caring for people at home is not about me as a GP caring for them. I have plenty to do.

“We want to see consultants visit them in person or see them by phone or tele-conference.

“More and more people are happy to be contacted in a variety of ways. We are planning that doctors will use a combination of telephone, e-mail, Skype and visiting.”

Although Dr Battle accepted that the vast majority of at-home patients would be elderly – who may not be familiar with computers – he insisted mobile phone penetration was quite high.

He also said that nurses would visit patients every day and that doctors would also be encouraged to go out on calls.

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The news was greeted with horror by the Defend the Whittington Hospital Coalition, which organised a protest march of 5,000 people against hospital chief’s plans on Saturday (March 16).

Chairwoman Shirley Franklin said patients still needed “human contact”, “especially if people are traumatised by illness or operations”. There are also concerns the hospital will not be able to care for people adequately at home it is also cutting 570 staff, a worry that Dr Battle accepted was a “very good challenge”.

“I would hope that we would avoid a reduction in community staff,” he said. “There are about 1,500 community-based staff. There is a chance of that number going up.”

The Whittington Hospital – which needs to save five per cent of its £270million annual budget in order to cope with the triple whammy of government cuts, increasing patient numbers and rising treatment costs – is embarking on a massive drive to treat more patients at home, believing this will enable it to cut 60 beds and 570 staff.

Dr Battle, who vehemently insisted the hospital would not sacrifice quality to cost, said: “I see 100 patients a week minimum in my business of 20 years.

“A lot of patients do not want to go to hospital if their care can be managed at home safely.”