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NHSX, the digital unit of the National Health Service, has partnered with Facebook to distribute thousands of devices that the social networking giant has developed to provide “emotional support and companionship during Covid-19”.
Some 2,050 Portal video calling devices developed by Facebook will be supplied for free to hospitals, care homes and other settings including hospices, in-patient learning disability and autism units.
Accenture is also involved in the project and is supporting the roll-out, which has seen 50 devices deployed so far.
The Portal devices are being delivered across the pilot sites of Surrey and other regions, including Manchester, Newcastle, Essex and London, starting this week. Organisations involved will be able to keep the devices free of charge following the pilot phase.
“Technology companies big and small continue to pledge their resources and expertise to support our NHS and social care system in these unprecedented times,” said Iain O’Neil, digital transformation director at NHSX.
“Technology has never been so important to providing one of life’s most essential things – the ability to communicate with the people we love regardless of where they are.”
NHS organisations are being selected for the trial on the basis of their Wi-Fi connectivity and ability to run devices in residents’ rooms or another private location. In parallel, NHSX said it is exploring connectivity options for care homes without Wi-Fi, including the use of 4G hotspots or data-enabled tablets.
NHSX is also giving advice on device setup, infection control and data protection, including how to complete a factory reset before passing the device to a new user as a means to protect the personal data of different users and staff.
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The digital unit said it is also working with other tech companies on other innovations. Possibilities include ways to enable health and care staff to work remotely, improving communication between clinical and care teams, shifting hospital outpatients to virtual appointments, and accelerating the use of online and video consultations within GP and primary care services.
In March 2020, NHSX launched a project with NHS England and NHS Improvement to deploy video consultation systems in GP practices across the country.
According to NHSX, practices that still don’t have technology to consult remotely will be allowed to use videoconferencing tools such as Skype, WhatsApp and Facetime as a short-term measure.