NHSX’s offer to support secondary care

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Over recent weeks there has been a staggering amount of work done to prepare the NHS for the COVID-19 pandemic. I know significant effort continues to ensure our hospitals are as prepared as possible to respond to upcoming challenges. 

Following my recent discussion with the CIO and CCIO networks I wanted to provide an update on our offer to support secondary care. 

There are several cases where I think digital technology has the potential to make a significant difference during the COVID-19 response. These include allowing staff to work remotely when they may be isolated or advised to work at home, improving communication between teams and shifting hospital outpatients to virtual appointments.

Remote working

Most organisations already have established ways to give their staff remote access to clinical and non-clinical systems. I know organisations are working hard to scale up this capacity in light of increased demand. If you’re experiencing any issues in doing this, please escalate them to your regional technology director. 

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care recently wrote to the major technology suppliers to ask that the NHS has priority access to the electronic devices it needs such as laptops. My team is working hard to establish this supply chain and importantly, how these devices are configured. It goes without saying that this process is incredibly complex, but the team is working on it as fast as possible. We are in close contact with the regional directors for digital transformation in NHS England and NHS Improvement and will update them as the supply chain is established.

Some functionality of clinical systems will typically require smartcard access. However, we are aware there is likely to be a strain put on this existing system so are looking at alternative solutions including virtual smart cards. I encourage you all to use the access and logistics hub created by NHS Digital, so everyone has access to the right technology and connectivity.  

Clinical communication tools

Microsoft Teams - it was recently announced that Microsoft Teams would be made available to all NHS staff for a free period - either by using their NHSmail account or by extending their organisation’s Microsoft Office licenses. This has been deployed at significant pace and to date there have been over 158,416 activated user accounts, almost 345,382 calls held and over 4.5 million chat messages. 

Alongside this, an appraisal of available clinical communication systems is being conducted and a simplified procurement method is being established to allow you to access the solutions that are right for your organisation. Further announcements and details will be made available in the near future. 

NHSX’s information governance team has also produced some helpful guidance around the use of mobile messaging and video consultations in all care settings. This includes some advice on home working and using your own devices to support video conferencing when there is no practical alternative.  

Virtual outpatients using video conferencing

Video conferencing means we can look after more of our patients in their own homes, reducing both face to face contact and unnecessary travel. While important to reduce the risk of coronavirus, video consultations also offer convenience to many patients. To encourage a fast take up of video consulting in secondary care, NHS England and NHS Improvement is offering funded access to the video consultation platform Attend Anywhere. There has already been fantastic local engagement with huge numbers attending virtual workshops from across the sector. Further workshops and platform training sessions are planned and work is also underway to develop a help desk for users.

I want to stress that organisations aren’t obligated to take this solution if they already have a preferred provider. My hope is these offers will help plug any existing gaps you may have and help you to prepare for these challenging times. Up to £20,000 is available to NHS providers for any hardware needed to implement video consultations regardless of their choice of video consultation system. 

Before starting a programme of remote working or remote consultations, I urge all staff to read this clinical guide for the management of remote consultations and remote working in secondary care during the coronavirus pandemic.  We also have a wealth of information available to support you here on the NHS England and Improvement website. Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust in London has also recently published a blueprint detailing their use of the Attend Anywhere platform in outpatient settings. NHS providers can also access support through the NHS England and NHS Improvement regional technology directors, the CIO/CCIO network or through my team at NHSX and we will do our best to help.