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The Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust employs 4,000 members of staff, and provides specialist mental health and community health services to a population of around 900,000 within the south east county.
Under the umbrella of the trust sits over 100 sites, including Prospect Park Hospital, community hospitals, GP surgeries and clinics, with 263 mental health inpatient beds and almost 200 community hospital beds across five locations.
However, for most people, trust services are in their own homes, and the key aspect of its care provision is a large team of nurses making home visits to those less able to reach a medical centre or hospital.
With each visit, the healthcare worker needs to check the patient’s records to ensure they are up to date with any problem, but also amend the records following the consultation with details of the issues, changes and treatment advised.
Until recently, nurses were expected to do all the manual updates back at the central hub for the trust because previous attempts at inputting data on the move had not worked out.
More on 4G
“We’d previously trialled mobile working with 3G but the connection wasn’t quick or reliable enough for us to invest in the technology,” said Bill Johnston, technology lead at Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.
Enter mobile operator EE. The company first began offering 4G to its customers in September 2012 after Ofcom allowed it to repurpose the spectrum it already owned and offer faster mobile data speeds.
Since then, the firm has been on a mission to roll out the technology thick and fast – with two million customers signed up and access expected for 70% of the UK by the end of January – and Berkshire was one such area to benefit.
With speeds five times faster than 3G on the table, Johnston and his team re-examined their options for having nurses work when out on visits or between patients.
In April 2013, 45 nurses were equipped with laptops and Mi-Fi devices, enabling them to log on to admin systems quickly and make updates over EE’s 4G network.
“What appealed to us most about 4G was the speed of connection and the areas of Berkshire it was available in,” he said. “Our staff can rely on the connection to get access to the information they need while out in the community.”
On average, our nurses can see one or two extra patients each day because of the time saved
Bill Johnston, technology lead, Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
But it is not just having the information at their fingertips. Being able to access or update information without heading back to a central location gives the nurses more time to spend focusing on their patients, and saves enough time to enable each nurse to see more.
“On average, our nurses can see one or two extra patients each day because of the time saved,” said Johnston. "Increasing the amount of care we can provide in or near patient homes, while improving quality, was a priority for us.”
“We wanted to equip our staff with the best technology to improve and increase the levels of patient care. The productivity improvements we have seen vastly outweigh the cost of implementing the system.”
There have been a few hiccups along the way, though, with Johnston admitting not every nurse was as tech savvy as he would have liked.
“The only minor hurdle we have had to address is the up-skilling of staff that weren’t previously IT literate. However, this is an additional benefit to our organisation,” he added.
To help train mobile workers, the Trust appointed a dedicated deployment team, including IT technicians, change managers and trainers, to show nurses and health workers how to use the devices and support them through adjusting to this new way of working.
More on technology in the NHS
Due to security compliance, nurses had to use the laptops and Mi-Fi devices provided by the Trust, although these were jointly agreed between them and dependent on their specific type of work or amounts of visits per day.
“We gave staff advice regarding laptop use in relation to health and safety and additional advice relating to personal safety,” said Johnston. “Our staff can choose where and where not to use or carry equipment. This is entirely at their own discretion and is the same for any other piece of clinical equipment.”
The success with the 45 nurses led to a much bigger plan and a training programme is in progress to give this mobile option to even more healthcare professionals in the next six months.
Johnston said: “By the end of the training programme, 1,200 members of staff who work in the community will have been trained and equipped with 4G, giving Berkshire Healthcare and its clients a modernised mobile workforce to provide and deliver healthcare.”
The reaction from staff has been positive and now Johnston hopes this technology can just continue to improve healthcare across the county.
“Many local people rely on the services we provide, and anything we can do to improve this is a bonus for us,” he said. “Mobile working with 4G is making real difference and we believe this will continue to open doors to even better patient care in the future.”