Lancashire and Cumbria hospitals are to enable doctors to assess stroke victims who need rapid treatment using high-definition video conferencing.
Lancashire and Cumbria NHS primary care trusts have signed Virgin Media Business to provide a high-speed fibre optic network at an estimated set-up cost of £250,000. The network will enable specialist doctors to use video-conferencing from their homes to assess out-of-hours patients directly.
Through the telemedicine project, doctors will assess stroke victims in hospitals remotely, to decide if they need a treatment known as thrombolysis.
The project will include the delivery of an IP VPN. It will connect doctors with core infrastructure supporting high definition (HD) video and audio. The VPN will include a hosted VC gatekeeper, directory service, HD multi-conference bridge and recording appliances.
A portable video conferencing tool called a telecart will be positioned at the patient's bedside in A&E or the stroke unit.
Paul Davies, consultant stroke physician at North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: "Thrombolysis treatment can only be given to patients within 4.5 hours of the onset of their stroke so time is core to this treatment and telestroke will help improve the speed of patient diagnosis.
"We are using technology to take the stroke specialists to the patient, rather than moving the patient long distances, around rural areas, to where the specialists work. In an acute stroke, time is of the essence and the sooner treatment can be provided, the better."
Virgin Media Business works with infrastructure and security specialist Imerja to develop the bespoke service.
Shuja Punekar, consultant physician of cerebro-vascular medicine, said the video conferencing technology has the potential to save the NHS millions per year in reducing the number of stroke victims requiring specialist care. The average saving per patient who undergo this treatment will be up to £50,000 per year, said Punekar.
"Our hospital provides thrombolysis treatment to around 8-10% of patients during nine to five hours, using video conferencing for out of hours treatment we expect this to increase to around 15%."
The network could be used to assess patients in further areas of treatment and advise non-specialist doctors in other fields.