Supporting the NHS through Digital and Always-Connected Solutions

By Fotis Karonis, CTIO BT Enterprise

This week, in what felt like the most hopeful news yet, we learnt that Covid-19 is finally in ‘retreat’, with the lowest numbers of confirmed cases across the UK since the end of March. It’s a been a long haul and it’s far from over; but it is a small win to celebrate as we continue to adhere to Government guidelines on social distancing measures, working from home, avoiding public travel and for many of us, home schooling.

Through the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have all been witness to the incredible efforts of NHS staff, emergency services and key healthcare professionals who are helping us all to get through the crisis together. Our NHS staff and care workers are still battling the crisis every day and we’ve come together in celebration and support, whether it’s through the national ‘Clap for our Carers’, or the rainbow ‘thank you’ NHS artwork we’ve seen pinned up on store fronts and bedroom windows across our UK homes.

The NHS has not only had to manage the influx of patients being admitted into hospitals right across the country but has also had to adapt how its staff assess and treat patients to ensure the best and safest care. This includes more urgent treatment, faster and more efficient communications, and abiding by PPE guidelines and social distancing measures to protect healthcare workers. The Covid-19 pandemic has also pushed the NHS to consider and deploy digital technologies more rapidly than it had perhaps anticipated.

As a critical national enabler, our own teams at BT have been working around-the-clock with our valued NHS partners to understand what technologies and connectivity tools we need to deliver to help the NHS manage this change. And like many other organisations – SMEs right through to the retail sector and large Enterprises – health services in the UK have also had to lean into more agile and remote forms of working.

Building remote technology

For example, we’ve once again partnered with the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB), the largest Trust in the UK, to trial new BT technology in the form of an always connected Remote Diagnostic Station.

The Remote Diagnostic Station works by enabling multi-disciplinary teams at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital to provide remote clinical support using digital stethoscopes and ECGs to review diagnoses for patients who are in a different location. With the technology, clinicians can assess and diagnose a patient without having to travel to them or be physically present. The diagnosis is done in real-time and over a converged 4G/5G and WiFi network.

Right now, the UHB is trialling the station in its Norman Power Centre, an off-site facility that provides care for patients who are preparing to return home. Experienced clinicians from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital have been testing real-time and virtual consultations using the station’s end-to-end connectivity solutions and are confident of the benefits it will bring to their in-patient care treatment.

At a time when the NHS needs more support than ever before, the Remote Diagnostics Station can be a transformative solution. Research shows that at any given time the NHS can be around 40,000 nurses short, but due to Covid-19 they are currently about 60,000 or 70,000 short. The Remote Station can help by significantly reducing care time and enhance the efficiency of NHS professionals that are already so time-constrained.

And when maintaining social distancing guidelines is critical, the Remote Diagnostic Station ensures patients can have the best care possible whilst avoiding putting themselves or healthcare workers at further risk. Whilst the Remote Station is currently being trialled by UHB in a hospital setting, it is also being considered for further deployment across GP’s, aged care homes and community clinics.

Secure messaging solution for NHS

We’ve also teamed up with Medic Creation to offer a new communications solution for NHS customers. The solution, Medic Bleep, has been described as a 'dedicated WhatsApp for doctors' – allowing NHS staff to communicate urgent information quickly, securely, and more efficiently. The app is an innovative messaging solution for frontline clinicians and care givers, as the outdated 70- year-old pager system continues to be phased out of the NHS by the government.

Medic Bleep is already resonating well with users and has replaced the internal communications network in West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds. The Hospital has almost completely dropped use of pagers, with all of their 4,200 staff now using Medic Bleep. The secure messaging solution has dramatically improved healthcare at West Suffolk Hospital during the Covid-19 pandemic, as clarity of communication and response times are critical.

On top of the 4,200 people currently using it at West Suffolk Hospital, a further 16,000 hospital workers have already downloaded it.

Medic Beep is another example of an innovative solution that can be scaled at pace across the NHS to help nurses and doctors to work more efficiently and securely. This is critical during Covid-19 but is also going to have vast benefits long after the pandemic.

The benefits that West Suffolk Hospital are already seeing, reinforce how technology can be a huge enabler for the NHS, with the power to transform how staff work and communicate with each other in times of global crises.

Our continued commitment

We know the NHS needs our support more than ever, and we’ll do all we can to help. Right now we’re offering unlimited data for NHS staff in the hopes that it gives our hardest-working one less thing to worry about. And we won’t stop there. Whilst this week did bring us some hopeful news of reduced patient numbers and a decreased ‘R’ infection rate, there is still much more work to be done. We’re continuing our efforts to collaborate, innovate and build solutions that will truly help our customers – particularly the healthcare sector – win out against Covid-19 and into the future.

Whether we’re connecting families and patients through the Life Lines project, delivering a dedicated messaging app or connecting patients and clinicians remotely, we are committed to supporting the public health effort and celebrating the NHS that are working so hard for us all – a huge heartfelt thank you to the NHS.