Virtual pulmonary rehabilitation service beats staff shortages and delights patients

Hywel Dda University Health Board’s virtual pulmonary rehabilitation service caught the eye of judges at this year’s NHS Wales awards.


The videoconferencing service won the award for improving health and wellbeing and reducing health inequalities at an event in Cardiff last month.

Rebekah Mills-Bennett, cardiorespiratory lead physiotherapist at Hywel Dda, said: ‘The outcomes from virtual pulmonary rehabilitation are equal to face-to-face therapy, but because we require less qualified staff it is more cost effective.

‘Another big plus is that patients do not have to travel. Those in Ceredigion said they could not have travelled 90 minutes each way to attend 14 classes over seven weeks.’

The virtual service began in October 2017 in response to a lack of pulmonary rehabilitation in the Hywel Dda area, which covers the south west coast.

Due to loss of key staff and increasing demand, there had been no pulmonary rehabilitation service in Ceredigion, and only a limited service in Pembrokeshire. Meanwhile, the service in Carmarthenshire had an 8-12 month waiting list.

Video linked classes

Hywel Dda had the lowest referral rate in Wales of eligible patients for pulmonary rehabilitation services at 31 per cent, according to the 2015–17 National COPD Primary Care Audit (Wales).

Ms Mills-Bennett described the programme: ‘First, patients have face-to-face assessment by physios, occupational therapists, and nursing staff.

‘Patients in Ceredigion go to the local Memorial Hall for a class with two physio technicians.

‘In Carmarthen, patients receive rehab with a qualified physio and an assistant present. But the two classes are joined by video link and the qualified staff member supervises both classes.

‘At the end of the exercise portion of the class, patients in both classes have a cool down, followed by a cup of tea. After that, they have an education session delivered via videolink. This could be with a doctor, an occupational therapist, a respiratory nurse specialist, or the smoke cessation service.’

Hywel Dda is aiming to create a virtual pulmonary rehabilitation network by linking three more classes to the ‘hub’ staffed by a qualified therapist in Carmarthenshire.

Commenting on the NHS Wales awards, health secretary Vaughan Gething said: ‘It’s a great opportunity to learn from each other and recognise the inspiring innovation of our NHS staff.

‘And it’s encouraging to see such passion and dedication to improving services provided across Wales.’



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