When the lockdown period began, it was clear that our network of face-to-face support groups for liver disease patients in Scotland and Wales would need to be put on hold (indeed many of the attendees were going to have to begin the process of shielding). The British Liver Trust teams in Scotland and Wales had already been keen to trial remote support groups, delivered virtually, to provide support to liver patients in more remote and rural areas, so we quickly put this plan into action, moving all our face-to-face groups into a virtual format so we could reach people in their own homes.
Each session lasts around 45 minutes, and we have run a whole range of groups, from general liver support through to specific groups for patients who are pre- and post-transplant and those with genetic and autoimmune conditions.
Topics discussed have ranged from logistical challenges such as getting prescriptions completed and new systems being used for routine blood tests, through to sharing experiences about sourcing food, and keeping fit and well (both physically and mentally).
We have found that attendees quickly became used to the change of format, and there were actually a number of new benefits to the new groups. The virtual delivery has enabled us to:
- Connect attendees from different parts of the country and meet people from other groups that they would not have been able to do before
- Increase the number and frequency of groups that we run thanks to time and cost efficiencies of using a virtual model
- Make it easier for busy clinicians to join the groups
Following this initial success in transferring our existing groups online, we have quickly expanded the offering and opened up the programme to patients from anywhere across the UK. After raising awareness through the British Liver Trust website and social media channels, a stream of new registrations have led to us launching new groups on a regular basis to meet demand. We will continue to expand our programme, and will be working closely with healthcare professionals to make sure as many patients as possible are made aware of the groups and can benefit from them.
Link for people to register interest in joining a group: Virtual support group registration.
Stats since late-April:
- 25 groups, attended by over 200 participants*
- Over 50 new registrations (people who saw our social media promotion and registered to attend a group)
- Over 50 people have joined our Wales liver support group on Facebook
- First launches of virtual groups in England
- Our Wales group running since 28th April and run at least once a week. There is a whole different programme of events for July including wellbeing sessions such as seated yoga and sleep well sessions, introduction to CBD techniques. On 28th July we will be having a virtual celebration of World Hepatitis Day involving all patients and clinicians. This is open to everyone in the UK.
- Launch of NI group to follow later in June
- Variety of topics