Following a successful pilot, the surgery centre at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead has adopted, an online service for patients and carers to meet up and talk with their friends and family in hospitals.

The NHS in the North East is the first in England to back the service, which provides a targeted social networking site built around a secure interactive message board, creating online visiting rooms for families and friends of patients.

Patients including Geoffrey Brown, 77, from Alnwick who was admitted for surgery on his abdomen thinks the online service would make a real difference to his stay in hospital.

“I had surgery five days ago, which has gone well but I don’t know how much longer I will be in here as they need to keep me in for observation.

“People in my position can often feel isolated and bored so getting them to use the internet to keep in touch with loved ones while they’re on the road to recovery will really help. Using the internet at my age is also a great way of keeping busy.

“It makes life easier for the staff on the ward because they don’t have to spend time individually getting information to each of my friends and family.“

Acting chief executive of NHS North East, David said: “Keeping a wide range of people up to date with how someone is doing while they’re in hospital can be an additional strain during periods of worry or when time is at a premium.” 

The surgery centre staff have become great supporters of the service after experiencing a sharp reduction in the number of telephone calls coming into the ward from distant or immobile friends and family enquiring about a patient’s progress.

“As well as providing an opportunity for patients and visitors to save money on phone calls and offering greater convenience and an interactive network, the service can play a huge roll in controlling infection risk from visitors coming on to our wards,“ said Ian Renwick, Gateshead Health chief executive and patron.