In March 2020, it was clear that due to the Covid-19 pandemic we needed to keep our support group attendees safe by cancelling our upcoming network of face to face support groups.
In common with many other organisations, the pandemic prompted us to rethink the way we work, and explore different ways to connect with one another.
The enforced suspension of our face-to-face patient support groups gave us the opportunity to test, expand and measure the impact of running virtual groups.
It quickly become clear that we could reach many more patients than ever before, with the use of technology opening up our support offering to those in remote and rural areas of the country, those without access to reliable public transport and those whose condition made it challenging for them to travel to attend in-person meetings.
Growth in support
In the year prior to the pandemic, when our support groups were running face-to-face, we supported around 60 people per month.
During 2020, following the launch of virtual support groups, we supported an average of 148 people per month.
In 2021, the number of people we support has grown to average of 197 people per month.
We were also able to expand the types of support offered, moving from mostly general groups to condition-specific content and also introducing topic-led ‘living well with liver disease’ sessions. These sessions focused on issues such as: getting the most out of a healthcare appointment, sleep hygiene, coping strategies and emergency planning.
The groups are focused around peer-to-peer support and are open to anyone affected by a liver condition, as well as, family friends and carers of liver patients.
Planning for the next stage
The growth in people using our virtual support groups has demonstrated the clear need for patients and their families and carers to be able to access the crucial additional dimension of peer-led support, advice and information.
We have begun a process of developing the focus of our patient support provision via virtual support groups from a location-led approach to a condition-led approach. This enables us to link together greater numbers of people who are on the same journey with their condition and provides that all-important ability for us to bring people together who know what others in the group are going through. The value and focus of the peer support able to be offered through this method is hugely significant.
All our groups are patient led and we will continue to listen to feedback from attendees to help us expand and add groups to meet the needs of patients and family members.