Sheffield Children's Hospital is testing a self-developed bedside computer system that will provide free TV, internet and secure telephone links for patients as well as clinical applications to staff.
The system was developed by the hospital's IT department in collaboration with partners to help it avoid having to sign restrictive 15-year contracts negotiated by the NHS with several national service providers.
The Sheffield Children's NHS Foundation Trust delayed meeting an NHS mandate to provide free communication services to children in hospitals to give it time to find an alternative.
Instead the trust decided to develop its own system using equipment purchased with funds raised by the Sheffield Children's Hospital Charity that could be managed in-house and did not impose any contractual obligations.
"The Trust wanted an independently owned and managed system that could be used for both patients and staff," said Russel Banks, head of information management and technology at the Trust.
The equipment from hospital supplier Wandsworth Group was integrated with the hospital's clinical information and internal Cisco IP telephone systems to ensure secure national phone links for children, parents and other authorised users.
The first phase of the safety and feasibility trial of 21 units was officially begun in November 2007. That phase is nearing completion. A second phase using 86 more units to test staff access to clinical systems is expected to begin by the middle of 2008.
The Wandsworth equipment has been modified to enable hospital staff to access clinical applications usingNHS smart cards. The systems will then revert to being purely for patients once the cards are removed as the two systems are independent and self-contained.
In keeping with the NHS Connecting for Health Programme's aim of moving forward with IT for staff, Banks said the Trust wanted to make sure the bedside systems were multifunction units that could be used by clinical staff as well as patients.
"The Trust wanted to rationalise the equipment we had and make better use of it," he said.
Once the second phase equipment has been installed, a further 86 units will be placed on order to complete the roll-out to the rest of the hospital, which treats over 35,000 children a year.