Reflections from Dr David Rigby, NHS Western Isles, on digital communication and interface working during the COVID-19 pandemic

The pandemic created an understandable feeling of fear and uncertainty across NHS Scotland staff while all areas prepared for the unknown. NHSWI was no different to any other area in this regard.

Being on an island chain the ability to meet had always been an issue both within primary care and across the primary/secondary care interface. Travel times, weather and work commitments hindered joint working as well as the well-rehearsed differences and invisible curtain between primary and secondary care services.

The pandemic brought MS Teams as well as a real desire and necessity to work and communicate remotely. With this in mind the former Associate Medical Director set up a weekly meeting for all clinical staff groups to update on COVID matters. The pandemic uncertainty helped bring a good number of diverse clinicians to the table, many seeing each other for the first time in their working careers. The ‘face to name’ approach proved warming to many and the meetings grew in attendance.

As a health board we were fortunate, especially during the early stages, to have small COVID numbers and as Remobilisation took off these meetings morphed into a unique opportunity to develop true interface working.

I took over the Chair of the meetings on the departure of the AMD and we have been able to focus on looking weekly at developments that affect all of us across the wider NHS pool. The invite and attendance list now covers Medical staff from primary and secondary care, nursing, AHP’s, radiology, lab services, IT, practice and secondary care managers and health board executive staff.

Each week on a Tuesday at 5pm we hear from our executive leads on pandemic and staffing developments. Most weeks we also have a ‘guest’ speaker highlighting new pathways or workstreams that affect service throughout the health board. The opportunity to hear, question, challenge and shape services has brought the wider team much closer together. Even our most ‘confrontational’ of meetings have led to real progress in interface working with ‘offshoot’ groups able to work on and solve differences identified in a much more constructive way.

The meetings show no signs of dying off anytime soon regardless of the trajectory of their initial focus, COVID.

The successful ingredients?:

We hope that this is one positive legacy that will continue and be central to new developments for NHSWI to allow full buy in and support based on knowledge and understanding.