The NHS Gets a Government Technical Lift

With the launch of NHSX and the UK Government set to increase spending on the NHS, the largest part of the Healthcare sector, additional funds may well be available for a sector that, despite austerity cuts, has remained a huge investor in IT and communications equipment.

The UK health sector is rarely out of the news but that is often for the wrong reasons. In an era where the population is aging the pressure on resources increases and demands for more spending just keep on coming.

Successive governments will come up with initiatives, but this is a huge issue to deal with especially at a time when technology has so much to offer the sector in terms of improving health outcomes as well as productivity.

This is a sector that is also constantly being reviewed and commented upon by non-governmental organisations such as think-tanks, analysts and invested suppliers.

Currently the UK Government has two high profile actions on its agenda; firstly, the Autumn Budget 2018 revealed, in the 70th year of its formation, the NHS budget will increase by £20.5 billion a year in real terms by 2023-24, an average real rate of growth in the NHS’s budget of 3.4% a year. This will take the NHS budget from £114.6 billion in 2018-19 to £147.8 billion in 2023-24.

More recently, this February the Government announced NHSX, a new joint organisation for digital, data and technology to take forward digital transformation in the NHS, allowing patients and staff to benefit from the latest digital systems and technology.

The aim is to bring the benefits of modern technology to every patient and clinician. It will combine the best talent from government, the NHS and industry.

The Government acknowledges that currently, much NHS technology relies on systems designed for a pre-internet age. Patients are not getting the care they need because their data does not follow them round the system.

Change has been slow because responsibility for digital, data and tech has been split across multiple agencies, teams and organisations. NHSX will change this by bringing together all the levers of policy, implementation and change for the first time.

‘NHSX will work with the NHS and the wider digital economy to build world-class digital services. These will improve care for patients and enable medical research’.

Significantly for suppliers, the NHSX organisation will use experts in technology, digital, data and cyber security to deliver on the Health Secretary’s tech vision and the Long-Term Plan for the NHS.

NHSX’s responsibilities will include:
• Setting national policy and developing best practice for NHS technology, digital and data – including data-sharing and transparency
• Setting standards – developing, agreeing and mandating clear standards for the use of technology in the NHS
• Ensuring that NHS systems can talk to each other across the health and care system
• Helping to improve clinical care by delivering agile, user-focused projects
• Supporting the use of new technologies by the NHS, both by working with industry and via its own prototyping and development capability
• Ensuring that common technologies and services, including the NHS App, are designed so that trusts and surgeries don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time
• Making sure that all source code is open by default so that anyone who wants to write code for the NHS can see what they need
• Reforming procurement – helping the NHS buy the right technology through the application of technology standards, streamlined spend controls and new procurement frameworks that support their standards
• Setting national strategy and mandating cyber security standards, so that NHS and social care systems have security designed in from the start
• Championing and developing digital training, skills and culture so staff are digital-ready
• Delivering an efficient process for technology spend, domain name management and website security

Where is the disruption coming from? Digital Disruption is all around… how is it impacting this particular vertical and how can the Channel react?

Neal Humphrey at Alcatel-Lucent Enterprises says that everything in healthcare is going mobile, consequently there is an explosion of IoT devices that need to be securely managed onto the hospitals data network.

“Automating, and in turn simplifying the on boarding of headless devices – both wired and wireless – into secure containers is key. The latest unified access platforms like our OmniVista2500 provide automated policy-based access for IoT devices, reduce technical overheads, manpower and de-risk the care pathway.”

“These are often 24/7, high priority call management environments where compliance is vital and service efficiency the key focus,” says Iain Sinnott at VanillaIP.

“It is no surprise that with manpower costs (the biggest challenge in the health sector) technology is being asked to drive efficiency. Previously delivering services like this was a challenge for smaller resellers but, with the Uboss self-management portal, customers are only really requiring out of hours support for service interruption, not call flow control and user service manipulation.”

According to Ian Bevington at Oak Innovation, transformational pressure is coming from the need to provide an efficient and effective service with extended hours.

“In addition, more and more activities traditionally managed by secondary care, for example minor operations, are being performed in a primary care setting. These pressures are driving GP surgeries to invest in technology and collaborate or merge to form larger entities.”

Which products and services are selling well?

Neal Humphrey at Alcatel-Lucent Enterprises, says all NHS Trust IT managers are tasked to provide more for less.

“More mobility, more security, more control, but simplified. Consequently, Unified Access on a single pane, intelligent Fabric (iFAB), Shortest Path Bridging (SPB) and application analytics are all ramping up globally in healthcare. Then there is the desire to provide staff with new comms tools like our Rainbow UCaaS and CPaaS and the integration of the platforms with medical and operational applications. To be honest, we have a great story and we are seeing an upturn in business across LAN, WLAN and Comms portfolios in the NHS. It probably helps that cash is tight and customers are looking to alternative manufacturers and partners.”

Iain Sinnott at VanillaIP, enthuses, “Our cloud contact centre products are very popular because of the breadth of service, Uboss reporting and the price point which is very attractive when compared to the legacy systems previously required to deliver the compliant services required. Mobility options, be that smart phone apps, Broadworks anywhere or remote office, also allow for a blended workforce without a loss of control or compliant reporting.”

According to John McKindland, at Nimans, NEC’s iCall provides a complete healthcare communication solution for patients, residents and nurses. Integrating nurse call, nurse notification and telephony applications offers a one-stop-solution for every healthcare facility in Acute Cure and Care, Long-Term Care and Assisted Living.

“It brings ‘voice to the bed’ rather than just a simple alarm system.”

Ian Bevington at Oak says additional funding is available for meeting Quality Outcomes Framework and LEC targets.

“Products and services that improve the effectivity of preventative healthcare campaigns and secure additional funding are selling well and increasingly, GP surgeries are moving to SMS messaging for notifications and telephone triage to reduce cost and improve service. Specifically, reducing Did Not Attend (DNA) and maintaining accurate contact information is a priority.

Oak Innovation’s PatientConnect addresses both challenges, guiding the user through caller verification and automating access to patient records. Preventative care campaigns can be flagged up for a conversation. PatientConnect also makes it easy to identify and capture new numbers.”

Can you be a generalist or is it essential to specialise in this vertical…why?

Getting on the right frameworks is the number one priority for success says Neal Humphrey at Alcatel-Lucent Enterprises.

“Number two is training, as the portfolio of technology expands so the remit for business partners is expanding. Other than that, it’s about commitment. Partners – and vendors – must be prepared to work closely with their prospects and customers, understand their pain and guide them on their digital journey.

We decided that to be the best vendor we needed to focus our technology portfolio for healthcare providers. It’s been a big task, we didn’t just add pictures of doctors and nurses in our literature we put together a customer advisory board to focus on what our customers really needed. Then we acted on it. We run specific customer forums like the forthcoming ALE Healthcare Experience in Paris. We educate our BPs and our customers on the industry trends and forthcoming technologies relevant to healthcare, and we are seeing the benefit of this work.”

Iain Sinnott says that suppliers such as VanillaIP create a broad portfolio of services and applications to be managed by distributors and resellers.

“They in turn can either filter that portfolio down to specifically fit a vertical or even enhance that narrower portfolio with best in class services from other suppliers which they can then merge and manage in Uboss. This does not preclude them from having a general market portfolio, managed under a different client tariff. One of our top resellers sells successfully across many market segments but also landed a 1500 seat health sector contract, including call centre and GB surgery environments.”

Robin Hayman, Director of Marketing & Product Management at Splicecom, says that over the past 12 months Splicecom has proved that vertical market specialisation is a key value-add for their channel partners.

“As such we’ve invested heavily in Medic-Call, a sub-brand that delivers packaged voice solutions for GP Surgeries, Dental Practices, Care Homes and Veterinary Surgeries.

Medic-Call sits alongside other Splicecom vertical market brands, including Study-Call (schools and colleges) and Service-Call (hospitality and managed offices).

GP Surgeries are proving to be a particularly rich area for Splicecom at present. The move to combine multiple surgeries under the umbrella of a Trust or Partnership status means single system, multi-site operation is a pre-requisite. Add in the need to offer extended opening hours and patient triage over the phone, it’s easy to see why our flexible approach to cloud, on-premise, or hybrid solutions offering extra resilience, is winning us many new friends in the NHS.

These days you have to be a specialist to gain traction in this market, you have to talk the talk AND walk the walk, hence the need for Medic-Call. Working in conjunction with other approved NHS suppliers, and focussed channel partners to provide a total solution, Medic-Call can enhance, or even replace, a surgery’s current phone system. Integration with all the leading patient record systems, helping surgeries verify mobile numbers and complying with Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF) and Local Enhanced Services (LES) requirements are all key to winning NHS business – and all catered for by Medic-Call.”

John McKindland at Nimans

For me a degree of being able to specialise and stand out from the competition is important in this sector. There’s a lot of technical skills required and the support of your supply partner realty helps too.

Ian Bevington, Marketing Manager at Oak Innovation

For partners that don’t know primary healthcare, installing hardware, software and accessing network services can be a real challenge – but Oak can help.

Ed Says…

In my opinion there are a number of key points to recognise when it comes to the healthcare sector and technology.
1. Technology has the potential to deliver significant savings for the NHS but the service does not have a strong track record in implementing it at scale and needs to get better at assessing the benefits, feasibility and challenges of implementing new technology.
2. Patients are embracing new technology and increasingly expect their care to be supported by it. For example, the majority of people say they would use video consultations to consult their GP about minor ailments and ongoing conditions.
3. New technology could fundamentally change the way that NHS staff work – in some cases requiring entirely new roles to be created. The impact of these changes should not be underestimated.
4. People generally have relatively little knowledge about how the NHS and commercial organisations use data for health research, which may be responsible for mistrust in some cases. Transparent public dialogue is needed about how data is currently used; what the opportunities are for the future; and how risks can be mitigated.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine