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St George’s Hospital in Tooting is one of the biggest hospitals in the UK and the main site for the St George’s University NHS Hospitals Trust. As well as delivering acute hospital services and a broad range of specialist care, St George’s is one of four major trauma centres in London. It is a principal teaching hospital with a long history of training medical students and carrying out advanced medical research.
Across the Trust, more than 9,000 staff serve a population of 1.3 million Londoners and up to 3.5 million people in South East England as a whole. Home to one of the busiest A&E departments in Britain, St George’s features regularly on the RTS award-winning documentary: 24 hours in A&E.
NHS Digital is the national information technology partner to the health and social care system. It recently launched an initiative specifying that all secondary care providers, such as St George’s, must provide free WiFi access to help improve the patient / visitor experience by the end of 2018.
The NHS Patient WiFi Platform would have tocomply with strict NHS Digital criteria for functionality, resilience and security. Ideally, it would also integrate seamlessly with existing infrastructure and be capable of being up and running in a very short timescale. To add to the challenge, it would be a high-profile initiative within the Trust itself, involving multiple stakeholders, potentially sensitive data and additional IT service demands.
Critical Success Factors
“Given the highly visible nature of the what we were implementing, we wanted to make sure we got it right first time,” said Chris Adams, Head of ICT Operations at St George’s. “We reached out to a number of different vendors, including our existing WiFi service provider, to examine potential solutions. It was effectively a mini tender process, with vendors being scored against 13 questions to understand the capabilities each potential solution provided. We have a long-established working relationship with Softcat, so it made sense to include them in the process.”
St George’s contacted Billy Smith, Softcat Account Director, who with the help of the wider Softcat team, carried out an extensive market evaluation of potential providers. “Following a thorough analysis of multiple options, we decided the cloud-based offering from Purple, an award-winning provider of WiFi solutions, was ideal,” Billy said. “It delivered the security, resilience and functionality specified by NHS Digital, and it could be implemented within the tight schedule and budget available.”
“Once we received all of the proposals, Softcat’s recommendation to install a solution from Purple ticked all of the boxes,” said Frances Williams, Operational Support Manager. “None of the others could deliver the high levels of service and operability we wanted for the new platform.”
A cloud-based solution was preferred as it would enable St George’s to further leverage its existing Cisco wireless infrastructure and bandwidth. As well as driving down project implementation costs, the solution could be quickly and simply installed as a software overlay and still provide the extensive information capture, handling and security governance capabilities required by the NHS Digital criteria.
It would enable free WiFi service users to be quickly and simply authenticated onto the network, as well as ensuring strict filtering is in place to prevent access to unauthorised content. The built-in platform dashboard provides deep insight into user metrics to help simplify management and deliver a full overview of user activity. It will also enable individual NHS-Branded splash pages to be embedded in the service for communicating essential healthcare information.
“Softcat and Purple ran an on-site demo to highlight exactly what the solution would deliver,” said Chris. “Once we’d seen what it was capable of and understood the potential it held for introducing innovative services further down the line, we were confident it was the right solution for our needs.”
“The solution was implemented with barely an issue,” said Chris, “and although the basic service is great, we know there’s so much more that can be achieved further down the line. The main driver for the introduction of free patient WiFi access has always been to improve the patient / visitor experience. We know that allowing internet access on mobile devices helps people stay in touch with friends and family at what can be a stressful time, as well as helping to reduce feelings of isolation for those undergoing treatment.
“We also realise, however, that the solution provides the capacity to deliver easy access to information about services, support networks and even clinic waiting times in the future. A WiFi working group has already been established to explore what is possible from a clinical and communications perspective - we’re sure there is so much more we can achieve and Softcat will continue to work with us to realise the solution’s full potential.”
St George’s can tailor exactly what type of content is available through the service, as well as being able to fine-tune the information users have to provide when logging in. In the future, the platform will support targeted health messaging based on the demographic information voluntarily provided by the service user. Customisable splash screens can also be used to deliver a range of other information, including NHS-Branded communications, Anti-Smoking campaigns and more general health advice.
Free patient WiFi will also make it easier for patients and their families to provide essential feedback on the care they’ve received. Currently, a manual form is used to capture this information, but with easy access to an online form, it’s just one of the processes that can be streamlined and improved as more functionality is added.
“We have a bi-weekly conference call with NHS Digital and they have commended us on the success of the project,” said Frances. “We knew it would be a challenge to get the service up and running in such a short timescale, but Softcat and Purple provided everything we needed to make the deployment such a success. They hit the deadline and managed to bring the project in under budget as well!
Benefits at a glance
Softcat has worked alongside St George’s on a number of strategic projects in recent years, helping to drive down overall costs and ensuring it has access to the technologies and capabilities a 21st Century healthcare provider needs. As with every client, Softcat has leveraged its extensive industry knowledge and robust relationships with leading technology providers to not just meet but exceed St George’s expectations.
“Softcat has delivered over and above what was required on the majority of projects we’ve completed,” said Chris. “Billy and the wider Softcat team are dynamic people who are intensely focused on providing the very highest levels of customer service. Aside from consistently delivering mature, knowledgeable advice and guidance, they make no attempt to cross or up sell, while striving to deliver best value wherever possible. They are a pleasure to deal with.”