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Virgin Media O2 Business switches on 5G-connected hospital

Business division of UK cable provider announces switch-on of what it calls UK’s first 5G-connected hospital

The South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust has become the site of the switch-on of reportedly the UK’s first 5G-enabled hospital, as part of a digital health trial using a private 5G network from Virgin Media O2 (VMO2) Business to connect mission-critical hospital activity, including smart medicine storage and e-observations.

The Trust is regarded as the provider of the most extensive portfolio of mental health services in the UK, and the activation of the private 5G network is part of Maudsley Digital Lab’s series of digital health and innovation trials funded by NHS Digital, with the private 5G network providing dedicated connectivity for mission-critical digital health use cases for both clinicians and patients. The trials are investigating the efficiency, safety and security benefits of using smart, 5G-connected technologies in NHS hospitals – including internet of things (IoT), augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI).

The Maudsley Smart Hospital and Maudsley Smart Pharmacy trial is a collaborative development between South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, NHS Digital, Virgin Media O2 Business, Bruhati and Nokia. Now live across two wards at Bethlem Royal Hospital in South London, it will test a number of use cases.

These include dedicated, near-real-time connectivity to power e-observations, where clinicians are making use of handheld devices to update patient records to save time and improve accuracy. It will also link up smart devices and monitoring to reduce expensive medicine waste and track the air quality in wards. In addition, hospital IT teams will have access to expert maintenance support in other hospitals thanks to the Remote Expert AR tool, while the Trust is seen as being able to plan space in public areas better using Spatial Insights, which uses AI to provide anonymised heat maps of crowd movement analysis using CCTV footage.

A key app is 5G-connected e-observations (eObs). This is designed to monitor patients’ vital signs, allowing clinicians to use handheld devices to update patient records digitally and make live observations. Virgin Media O2 Business’s private 5G network, based on the Nokia Digital Automation Cloud (DAC), will provide a dedicated, high-speed platform to allow health professionals to stay connected in real time to the online e-observations platform, without needing to use the hospital’s Wi-Fi network. This, said VMO2, will save valuable time by allowing clinicians to complete their rounds more efficiently and make for more accurate record-keeping for each individual patient.

In keeping with a trend established by the leading connectivity providers, the 5G trials will also include an IoT innovation lab and platform, in partnership with Bruhati, which South London and Maudsley appointed as a partner for providing IoT technology to the Trust. This project will look at smart, connected use cases, including remotely monitoring medicine fridges to ensure drugs are stored at the optimum temperature and thereby reducing expensive waste, tracking the air quality inside wards and monitoring the occupancy of desks and meeting rooms in the hospital.

To improve IT support as the hospital moves to more digital ways of working, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust will also trial Remote Expert, Virgin Media O2 Business’s AR-connected headset. Remote Expert allows a specialist in another location to guide on-site workers in completing complex tasks. In a potential usage, a worker in one South London and Maudsley hospital could wear the 5G-connected headset and see a remote expert in another hospital via a video stream. This means on-site IT engineers could be able to get support from experts based elsewhere quickly and easily when working on the hospital’s network and servers.

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Using Spatial Insights from Virgin Media O2 Business, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust will be able to use AI to create heat maps and understand how people move around Maudsley hospital through the analysis of footage from existing CCTV cameras in the hospital and insights on movement patterns.

VMO2 said this means the hospital can better plan public areas, getting a picture of queues, waiting times and busy hotspots in the hospital at particular times. Spatial Insights is said to be able to do this process anonymously with all information processed on-site, never stored and the process is fully GDPR-compliant.

Kester Mann, technology analyst and director for consumer and connectivity at CCS Insight, described the announcement as a landmark moment for the UK telecoms and healthcare sectors.

“Dedicated 5G in hospitals can open the door to a range of new applications, such as real-time tracking of patients’ conditions, remote support and round-the-clock monitoring of medicines and equipment,” he said. “Its high throughput and low-latency characteristics can also improve the efficiency and security of existing operations, making healthcare services smarter, more accurate and more effective.”

Commenting on the project, Stuart MacLellan, acting chief information officer at South London and Maudsley Foundation Trust, said: “Exploring and using the latest technology supports our core strategic aim to deliver outstanding mental health care for people who use our services, their carers and families. We are proud to be partnering with Virgin Media O2 Business to create the UK’s first 5G-connected hospital, which enables us to use digital innovations to improve patient outcomes. This is a very exciting step forward.”

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