Secondary Care

Industry View: Healthcare experts react to the NHS clinical communication tools contract  

NHSX last month launched its Clinical Communications Procurement Framework and announced the 25 suppliers that were successful.

The framework was launched to help organisations remove pagers and quickly adopt clinical facing communication and task management tools that have been through an NHSX assessment process.

HTN asked the industry and some of the suppliers on the framework for their views and how they see things moving forward.

Philip Mundy, joint CEO and co-founder, Pando: 

At last count, there were 130,000 pagers still being used in the NHS. They’re slow, dangerously inefficient, and are long overdue consignment to history. It’s therefore incredibly welcome news that NHSX have formalised a process to replace them and are making it as easy as possible for Trusts to take the first steps towards modernising their communications.

Healthcare staff need safe, fast and purpose-built technology which takes into account the pace and nuances of frontline care delivery. They need tech which speeds up decision making, eliminates silos, and is incredibly user-friendly. We cannot introduce new friction points or encumber clinicians with lengthy on-boarding; decision makers must keep this front of mind when exploring new platforms.

Dr Jonathan Bloor, medical director, System C: 

We welcome the Framework – anything that helps move the NHS move on from its current reliance on ‘old technology’ – pagers,  landlines, repeated face-to-face handover meetings and scribbling communications down on pieces of paper.

There is no doubt that the  rest of the world has been transformed by emerging technologies like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp – the NHS has got left behind.

However, it is very important that the NHS doesn’t make the mistake of thinking that a communications app alone can address its needs and replace the old technology.  The solution to healthcare’s care co-ordination problem can’t just rely on secure messaging.  Clinicians need an alternative which adds significant clinical value.

To add clinical value, a care coordination app must:

  • Integrate with the EPR or shared care record
  • Cover all the key components of team-based clinical workflow (patient list management, handover, task management, push alerting, patient identified messaging and photos, team to team referral)
  • Work with and support cross organisational workflows, so that care is not siloed to individual organisations such as the acute Trust, and the app can help support and drive integrated care
  • Be built on a solid business case and sustainable business model. Basing core clinical systems on free software and speculative business valuations is incompatible with the reality of long-term NHS service provision.

Elliott Engers, CEO, Infinity Health:

For NHS organisations looking to eliminate the bleep and other outdated communications tools, this framework will be a welcome addition, and shows us a glimpse of how modern, joined-up NHS procurement could be.

I’d love to see NHSX go further in its thinking on communications. The framework solutions provide a solid start, but only scratch the surface of what technology can do to support frontline staff.

Instead of replacing one communications tool for another, we believe there is scope for a far more ambitious goal. If staff had access to up-to-date, accurate information about their patients in real-time, they wouldn’t need to rely so heavily on bleeps, voice calls or instant messaging. Less time wasted on communicating and coordinating care, means more time spent with patients.

In our view, it is this, wider approach to communication and collaboration that will lead to the biggest time-savings for NHS staff. 

Dr Jas Saini, CEO, Vtuls: 

It’s vital that clinicians and procurement professionals take the time to rigorously research suppliers to ensure that they can deliver what is needed. It’s important to be clear on what you are trying to accomplish, how it will be measured, and where, when and how you would like it to be implemented. When looking at suppliers you also need to understand to what extent it will match your needs, how much it will truly cost, what it will save and what evidence there is of it having been successful in addressing similar challenges for others.

Listing approved suppliers on a framework can give peace-of-mind to clinicians and procurement professionals, who will know that the companies meet a certain standard. However, it can also lead to a fairly narrow pool that results in the selection of the ‘closest fit’, rather than conducting the broad research necessary to identify the ‘best fit’. I would always urge clinicians and procurement specialists to begin with a wide search to ensure that they don’t discount solutions, like ours, that have published evidence of effectiveness, all the necessary certifications and a depth and flexibility that comes from having spent many years honing, adapting and improving our product in response to studies and real-world applications and situations. The end goal will always be to deliver the best possible care to the patient and so it is important that the procurement process should reflect that.

Dr Owain Rhys Hughes, founder, Cinapsis:

It’s essential that the phasing-out of pagers is coupled with the inauguration of highly effective, fit-for-purpose digital alternatives that can support clinicians in delivering the best care possible.

The NHS is an incredible machine, but huge silos still exist between its various engines. The right digital tools have a huge role to play in bridging these gaps and enabling the NHS to present a united front. Disjointed care pathways lead to delays, waiting lists, miscommunications and mistakes. Stronger clinical communication tools can ensure no piece of information is missed or overlooked and that every patient receives thorough and efficient care from their very first encounter with a clinical service.

Martin Bell, Independent Consultant, The Martin Bell Partnership

All investment into digital health is to be welcomed, and this framework provides some great solutions to address problems and reduce pager usage, plus about £3M as I understand to make it happen.

However, it is odd that the recent NHS deal with Microsoft does not seem to be factored into this, and so there appears to be some duplication and disconnect.

There is also a wider market of such tools available, and I wonder if this could have given even more choice to the NHS.

Many Trusts of course, have already taken steps in reducing pager usage, however there are some real world problems that can impact on this (e.g.: reliability of wifi, G signals, layouts of hospital campus, depth of new builds, especially some of the earlier PFIs), so addressing the software aspect is not the only part.

Harrogate has been working with Ascom, Bolton with Myco and Southampton and Hampshire Hospitals with Medxnote – so I would advise those looking for solutions to not only concentrate on this framework but also look more widely – but for sure, include it in their thinking.

I hear that the framework will open again next year, to invite more participants. It would be good to see a wider range of clinical workflow management solutions and a more strategic think and link through of how this fits with Microsoft Teams.

Professor Mike Lewis is the non-executive director at iPLATO, and is the Head of the Life Science Department at the University of Birmingham:

It’s really positive to see this ‘blue recovery’ being pioneered by the health secretary, but it’s only going to work if the plan has factored in two key elements. First is security – relying long-term on third-party owned platforms such as WhatsApp is really not acceptable, nor sensible – for a start the use of WhatsApp is a significant violation of GDPR and there are already options available to the NHS.

The second, but equally as important factor, is behaviour change.

Dr Anne Blackwood, Chief Executive, Health Enterprise East:

COVID-19 has really changed the game in terms of an urgent need for secure messaging platforms in the delivery of health and care services. Better communication tools will support staff in remote working, have the potential to reduce errors in clinical handover between shifts, and provide appropriate information gathering around messaging – as opposed to using personal email or platforms such as WhatsApp.