Transcript: Near Me in social services: an introduction

An introduction to the Near Me in Social Services project

Podcast Episode: Near Me in social services: an introduction

Category: Digital inclusion 



What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.

MD - Michelle Drumm
LD - Louise Bowen

MD Near Me in Social Services is a project Iriss has been leading in partnership with the NHS Near Me team and the Scottish Government Technology Enabled Care (TEC) Programme over Autumn/Winter 2020/21. The project is producing new evidence around the priorities, enablers and challenges of using video consulting in social services.

Iriss has supported five services to participate in a rapid Quality Improvement cycle to start using Near Me; provided light touch improvement support to organisations that are setting up Near Me independently within their work, and has developed a Learning Network.

Louise Bowen, project lead at Iriss, provides an introduction to the project, including the aims and outcomes and what it has achieved to date.

MD It’s lovely to speak to you today Louise, can you just tell me what is Near Me?

LB Yes, so Near Me is a video consulting platform essentially and it’s powered by the Attend Anywhere software. Now, folks might have heard of Near Me perhaps from their GP’s consultations, it’s been used quite a lot over the last year or so for that, for using video consulting rather than in person in the same room types of consultations. So, that’s what Near Me is: it’s a platform for video. Over the last year or so it’s been used initially by a lot of GP surgeries and I think the stats are, in March last year 2020, there were about 300 consults a week using Near Me but recently that number’s been up to about 18, 000 consultations a week in Scotland using this platform so, it’s scaled up rapidly … not only with GPs but across health care settings such as out of hours and urgent care but also a lot of social services organisations have started to set up Near Me waiting areas and examples of that might be Alzheimer’s Scotland and Crossreach Counselling; are some of the larger third sector organisations that have started using Near Me to deliver some of their work.

MD Okay and what are the kind of things that Near Me is used for? So, it’s used in health settings for people. Is it to be consulted on their health? And then you talk about the waiting rooms that some organisations are using, so could you just say a little bit more about what that is?

LB Sure. That’s right, so yeah in the sort of health settings it’s where a patient: you know, like you or I might meet with a GP or another clinician so instead of having a telephone call and particularly during the pandemic, trying to avoid footfall and surgeries or in person meetings, this would be a video consultation to, you know, discuss whatever the issue was. So, that’s in the kind of health care setting and in social services, we’ve got examples of people using that for delivering counselling support, or delivering advice and guidance so those kind of purposes and part of this project that we’re running is to explore that further and understand more about the different purposes that video consulting, particularly the Near Me platform could be used for across the wide range of social services activities.

MD So, you’re trying to increase the uptake of it in social services?

LB Absolutely. What we’re trying to do is to increase uptake but also to really explore and understand and produce experiential evidence around what works, you know, how it can be used as a tool and I suppose this is a really important thing to say: you know, it’s not about video consulting, replacing that in person contact between people delivering services and people using services but to think about where video could be a useful addition or alternative. The thing there as well for the current situation but also thinking about where it can be used to increase personal choice of people who are using services so, again it’s for people to have another option for how they connect with the services that they need and that’s something therefore obviously the people, practitioners, delivering services to build that in as a tool around their statutory duties and how they work. And to think around issues of consent and capacity for people to choose Near Me as an option for engaging with a service. So, there’s all those kind of things as well there that we’re looking to explore further as part of understanding how this could be used across social services.

MD Okay, great. And can you give me the time frame on the project and then who’s been involved?

LB Yeah. So, the project has been a 6-month project, so we started that in early autumn last year and it’s running until February/March this year, in 2021: so, it’s a 6 month project. We have engaged with 5 different services to work really intensively with us on a quality improvement cycle and I’ll talk a bit more about that in a minute. So, that’s been a really rapid 6-week bit of work that took place between November and December last year, with 5 services to see how they could trial using Near Me and begin to embed it in their service.

MD And are all the services that are involved, are they local authority services or are they also third sector?

LB Yeah, it’s a range. So, we have 5 different services involved in the quality improvement cycle. So, we’ve had teams from West Lothian Criminal and Youth Justice, East Lothian Duty Response Social Work Team, Fife Council’s Children and Family’s Disability Social Work Team, Angus Health and Social Care Partnership and also then the Wheatley Group Fullerton Service. So, there’s been a mix of social work and social care providers there but more widely across the learning network we’ve had participants from care homes, statutory services, a mix of third sector independent and statutory, yeah.

MD So, there’s a number of strands to the project, it would be great to get a little bit more detail about each of them.

LB Yeah, that’s right Michelle. So, there are a number of strands and they bring in a range of different partners into the project. So, first of all the first strand is bringing in a quality improvement cycle where we’ve been working really intensively over a 6-week period with 5 social services organisations to do a really intensive embedding and trialling of Near Me within their service. So, that’s the first strand, the second strand is the Near Me learning network that we’ve developed and that is a wider network that supports organisations who are interested in setting up Near Me independently and that’s really an opportunity there to work together to hear from other organisations to share learning and to also bring in inputs from other parts of the sector and that’s been fantastic. We’ve brought in partners, SCVO digital participation team, inputs from NHS Education Scotland around digital skills for video consulting, experiences of developing training and using Near Me from Alzheimer’s Scotland and Crossreach and also inputs from the SSSC and Care Inspectorate as well so, that learning network is really being developed around sharing stories, experiences, developing a safe space for folks to learn together. The third strand is offering some lighter touch improvement support for a number of organisations who weren’t involved in the QI intensive work but wanted to set up Near Me independently at their own pace, so we’ve been offering that support as well.

MD Great. Can you just tell me a little bit about stages of the project and where it is at currently?

LB Sure, so we have recently completed the quality Improvement cycle with those 5 services and that completed just before Christmas, that was a really intensive piece of work and you know, is brilliant to get that commitment from those 5 teams over this really incredibly busy time and pressurised time for them. So, that has competed and from that we are in partnership with the Near Me team developing a national guidance document that will support services across the sector to implement Near Me. So, it’s a detailed guidance document that will support them to think about: What do we need to have in place before we consider bringing Near Me in and what do we have to do to get it up and running within our service? So, that’s in development at the moment and around the learning network we are developing more input’s from the guests who’ve come along to speak at the learning network sessions that we’ve been running, all sorts of resources there, learning from the QI group, you know, what works, what doesn’t work, the experiences they’ve had, bringing case studies from some of the other support that we’ve been offering to people who’ve been setting up Near Me independently so, we’re pulling all that together at the moment.

MD Right, so people who are interested in the Quality Improvement cycle in itself can actually understand a bit more about that as well?

LB Yeah, they can. We’re going to be bringing in stories from those people who’ve been involved in that, about their experience of doing quality improvement and connecting that up with some of the work that SSSC is doing around quality improvement as well.

MD And so, by March what will have been achieved?

LB Well by March, we will have got that first set of guidance published, we’ll have reached our projects objectives, hopefully, which we’re identifying areas of delivery within social services that suit using video consulting, where video consulting can work well for social services purposes. We’ll have collated a range of evidence from the QI groups, from early adopters of Near Me, from the independent organisations setting up Near Me as well as disc research around evidence for video consulting and also building on the learning that’s been developed obviously with using Near Me within the health context. We’ll have also explored some of the existing training and guidance for using Near Me so, again thinking about that, what’s useful for the social services workforce when it comes to training and guidance for using video consulting as well as more widely supporting that uptake of Near Me within the sector. The outputs that will be reflecting that will be our Near Me project web page which will have video links, training links, also going out to the TEC and Near Me web pages, we’ll have inputs from the learning networks sessions that we’ve been running, from our guest speakers, we’ll have some of those learning journeys from QI participants and those setting up independently. So really, we hope to have a wealth of evidence there and experiential learning that folks in the sector can come and visit and use to consider what’s next for them if they’re interested in using Near Me.

MD Okay and so post March then, is there any plans for extending the work around Near Me?

LB Well I think there’s going to be, definitely scope for us to amplify the learning experiences of people who’ve been setting up Near Me within their service so, there’s definitely scope for that and I think for further engagement around, you know, what it’s like for social services to try to bring in this tool and to understand what it’s like for the people delivering services and also for the people accessing services, it links into a number of policy areas around digital inclusion, but also inclusion within social services and those kind of wider issues that are really important and kind of run through a number of kind of service delivery areas.

MD Louise, that was all my questions: so, I’d like to thank you for speaking to me about the TEC Near Me project. If people want to get in contact with you, what’s the best way to do that?

LB Yeah, that would be great if people have any questions or just want to have a chat about anything to do with Near Me and social services, they can get in touch by email. My email is

MD Well thank you very much for your time.

LB Thanks Michelle.

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