Ruth Maguire MSP has welcomed the positive feedback from patients and medical clinicians on the expansion of virtual medical and mental health appointments following the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, according to a survey.

Of 5,400 responses to the survey, 87 per cent of the public backed video consultations while 94 per cent of clinicians favoured a digital first approach.

This comes weeks after the 2020 Programme for Government included a commitment to make Near Me a default option for all healthcare consultations. While face to face appointments will remain an option, video consultations will offer patients greater choice, reduce the need for unnecessary travel and ensure the right care, in the right place.

The Near Me video system, originally designed to serve rural communities, was scaled up from March to ensure patient and staff safety during the pandemic.

The SNP MSP said: “I’m delighted to hear that the public have responded positively to the increased range of choice offered by video appointments with their GP. This development allows people to have greater flexibility in accessing services and will be a welcome addition to the healthcare system beyond the current public health crisis.

“At a time where many of us are restricting our movements and working remotely, the scaling up of video GP appointments is a sensible approach to help minimise risk of community transmission of the virus while still allowing people to receive suitable healthcare.”

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “During this first phase of the pandemic people followed our guidance closely, using their local pharmacy, GP practice, local minor injuries unit or calling NHS 24 when they needed medical and mental health advice and help. While the NHS has remained open during the pandemic, we need people to continue to access the right care in the right place.

“As we look ahead to winter we will better support people to ensure they have the information they need to get the right care, closer to home.”

The results of the Near Me public engagement can be accessed online.

Developed in 2018, Near Me was initially used in rural and island communities in the north of Scotland where distances can be an issue. The system helps to lower risk of infection, improve access to services, and reduce travel and time off work.

During the pandemic, Near Me received £1.2 million to support more than 7,000 people and 650 GP practices to use the service. Video consultations increased from 336 in the week before the scale‑up to almost 17,000 in the last week of June and will be key to delivering modern health and care services beyond the pandemic.