Neil has been redeployed from the eye department at King's College Hospital and is currently working in adult intensive care, leading on patient-family communications. We asked Neil about the tablet computers funded through the Hospital Heroes Appeal, and how they are helping patients in ICU keep in contact with their loved ones.

What difference have the tablets made to patients and families?


The tablets have been amazing. We can call a family member in and they can add another person to the call if they'd like to. It means that with relatives who like to pray, we can leave the tablet in with the patient whilst the family prays. The impact is huge. 


“In an ideal world, a patient’s family would be by their side, but it will be a long time before families can visit again. For now, the tablets have made a huge, huge difference.”


What is the impact on staff?


It has taken the strain off of the nurses as usually they are the ones who are communicating day to day with families, and then the doctor will step in if there is a significant update. Now I support the updates using video call. It feels less formal because I am outside of that team, so I always say I am not making decisions for your loved ones care, but I am here to facilitate interactions.


Why can’t people use their own phones to call loved ones?


They are too unwell. The patients are usually intubated, so they are asleep with a tube down their throat and they can’t communicate. We have a few who are well enough to speak to their families, but most are asleep and really really sick.


So I speak to the family first and ask if they would like to have a video call with their loved one - some people find it too distressing and don’t want to. If they want to do it though, I take down their email address and set up the call. 


It can be really difficult because the families can get a real shock from what they see. Maybe the last time they saw their loved one they were really well, and now they have tubes everywhere and monitors beeping, so it’s hard.


Normally, with a visit, you could take them into a family room and explain what is going on and give them a minute to let it sink in. We try and do something similar with the video call but it isn’t quite the same. And it isn’t quite as private as I have to hold the tablet. Sometimes if families want to pray then I will prop the tablet up and leave to give them some time. But because the patients is in intensive care the nurse has to stay with them at all times anyway as they can’t leave patients on their own.


So the tablets have made a huge huge difference. It will be a long time before families can visit again.


Will the technology continue to make an impact after COVID-19?


In the longer term it will be great for patients who have families who can’t get there in time; people whose relatives are a long drive away. After COVID-19, it will still make such a big difference to ICU because, for example, relatives who are abroad and the patient is too unwell so won't survive long enough for them to get there. Now they can do a video call. 


28 May 2020