Louise Fellows, Director, Public Sector UK&I
Over the past weeks, the UK health system has been catapulted into a time pressured environment where it has needed to transform its services to meet the unprecedented demand created by the extraordinary times we are living in. It has been required to react in ways that are not typical of this industry, turning to technology to provide services to care staff, and enable them to continue to do their jobs but from a safe and secure environment.
From the Nightingale Hospitals set up to expand critical care facilities and move the exposed volume of patients away from mainstream hospitals, to the mass shift of non-frontline employees towards remote working, the NHS has changed beyond recognition to best and sustainably serve the nation during this period of time.
While much of the attention to date has, understandably, centred around the requirement for hospital services, Primary Care is playing an equally critical role in supporting those patients that can avoid hospitalisation, as well as maintaining the health of the wider population that require continued medical guidance and support. These primary care providers are having to transform the services they deliver to minimise the risk of the virus spreading amongst potentially vulnerable patients and the healthcare workers themselves. As a result, we are seeing consultation, diagnosis and prescription moving from being a physical process, to a digital one.
At the same time, most General Practices, while remaining open, are now offering the majority of their services over the phone, video or online – services that were more limited, if not actually unavailable at many practices ahead of this crisis. The significance, scale and rapid delivery of this IT transformation cannot be overstated, as it enables all patients to access the medical consultations they require, while hospitals support the most in-need.
However, the challenge of delivering these new digital, remote services is aggravated when practitioners themselves are required to self-isolate when they or a family member report having possible Covid-19 symptoms. In such cases, the IT infrastructure and applications supporting these digital services and health centre software must also be made accessible to clinical staff at home, so that they can keep offering essential support for their communities.
As part of our combined response to this situation and to enable these services to be implemented and scaled as quickly as possible both for today and the future, VMware has developed a ‘Practice in a Box’ style solution that enables GPs and primary care workers to remotely access key applications so they can continue to care for their patients from home. Working in collaboration with leading expertise in the healthcare market and our consultancy partner Login, we want to ensure that every GP and primary care provider can be confident that they have secure access to the applications that will enable them to continue delivering their vital services.
Ian Wakeford, Head of Health Informatics Service at NHS Leicestershire Health comments, “Ensuring that our GP’s and primary care workers who need to work remotely and securely has become imperative during this time. For many NHS workers who are unable to leave their accommodation, we are now able to give them a consistent set of Clinical Tools but in the safety of home, but without the need for NHS equipment or VPN, both of which we have had capacity issues with. We’ve needed to move at great speed in order to find new ways of working which can ensure continued access to services for our patients to important medical services. This solution has enabled us to rapidly deploy the service into a live environment, initially to GP Practices with the ability to extend it further as required. Mark my words, VDI for General practice will be the new normal post COVID-19, GPs are very innovative, they will work out how for themselves how it will transform primary care delivery models in the future.”
The potential for virtualisation is not however limited to primary care with Out of Hours and 111 providers also being able to transform how they are staffed and operate based on flexible remote working. Early indications of the behavioural insights available from the solution highlights the potential for its use, alongside public facing digital services, to match care capacity and demand in the most optimal fashions ultimately supporting delivery of the quintuple aims of the NHS Long Term Plan.
At a time when we are relying on technology more than ever, it is essential that we collectively overcome hurdles and find ways to deliver a solution directly to those that most require it. There is still more to come but we are committed to working with our primary care customers to function remotely and take innovative approaches to make this possible.
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