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Care provider’s IT capability expands to support wider sector and beyond

Care Plus’s IT operation went from being under NHS control to an autonomous department selling its services

The internal IT department of a Lincolnshire-based healthcare provider has expanded to support 15 external organisations, and is reinvesting its profits into the provision of care.

F4 IT was created 10 years ago, from the internal IT department at community healthcare provider Care Plus.

Over the past decade, it has increased from six IT professionals to 14, and now supports more than 2,000 workstations, 1,500 mobile devices and 2,500 individuals across north-east Lincolnshire.

Care Plus, which has about 900 staff in total, split from the NHS 10 years ago to become a social enterprise, commissioned by the NHS to provide community healthcare services, including nursing.

Its internal IT department, now branded F4 IT, has transformed the use of IT at Care Plus over the years, and is now doing the same at organisations in the healthcare sector, as well as private enterprises.

Helen Chalkley has been a nurse at Care Plus since 2006. When she started, IT was basic, with nurses sharing a few desktops in the office and using paper worksheets. “You would have to come in and wait for a computer to document your work with the patients,” she told Computer Weekly.

Today, the use of IT is unrecognisable. Every member of the clinical and admin teams now has their own laptop. Nurses on the move have mobile devices that tether to laptops, providing always-on live connections to the NHS clinical computer system, known as SystemOne, which allows them to document the visits immediately.

“We had a few error incidents when documentation wasn’t done because nurses didn’t have time or access,” said Chalkley.

Patient records

Live access to patient records on the move has reduced the time between seeing the patient and the record being updated. This needs to be done in 24 hours, but through the IT system is now done almost instantly. This has reduced the number of serious incidents due to errors while cutting costs and saving time for nurses travelling between patients’ homes, headquarters and home.

The care workers always had access to SystemOne, but the way it’s used has changed over the years. “It now has the visit system on there, whereas thatt used to be on paper sheets,” said Chalkley. “We do it all electronically now, and it can be updated live so we can add to people’s visit lists when needed.”

Efficiency is important, with about 240 Care Plus nurses making up to 20 visits a day. SystemOne also gives the nurses access to electronic patient records, which is the main system they connect to.

According to Chalkley, the organisation has also moved away from keeping paper records, which involved “a lot of duplication”.

Furthermore, clinical teams now have access to Microsoft Teams and communication tools. Microsoft Teams channels now allow video calling and chat to take place, as well as collaboration on shared documents. The software was used heavily by Care Plus during the pandemic and has since become part of daily life.

IT user skills are improving in the nurse community, according to Chalkley, but there is an experienced team keeping the organisation up to date with the latest technology.

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David Whitfield, IT customer services manager at F4 IT, said that 10 years ago, Care Plus was receiving IT support from a larger supplier as part of the NHS, but it then decided to create an in-house department. This was only possible because the organisation was no longer a part of the NHS, which had its own IT agreements in place.

“Because Care Plus stepped away from the NHS to become a social enterprise, it gave it a bit more autonomy in how it did things,” said Whitfield. “It brought in its own human resources and finance departments and thought, ‘We have our own internal services, we should probably have our own IT’.”

Whitfield was one of the first members recruited for this team. “It was an opportunity to build a team from the ground up with brand new staff infrastructure and systems,” he said.

It began with four experts building the foundations, with projects around creating a service desk and building the IT infrastructure. Once the groundwork was done, the team was expanded to about six people.

This has increased further as other organisations wanted IT services from the Care Plus IT team. “Over time, because we had a reputation for doing well, other organisations that provide local healthcare said they were interested in our services,” said Whitfield.

In the first five years, it began adding new customers and decided it needed its own identity. It became F4 IT, and now has 14 people supporting 15 organisations in total, with 2,500 people served. Organisations being supported mainly include those operating in healthcare, including a mental healthcare organisation and hospices, but it is also expanding into the business sector with a haulage company on its books.

All profits are reinvested into improving Care Plus’s service. “The profit we make goes straight back into Care Plus, which ultimately improves the healthcare provided to the local community.”

Freedom of choice

When the organisation was part of the NHS, it had little choice over the IT used, because this was decided by the NHS centrally, but once it broke away, it had decisions of its own to make.

Whitfield said one of the first was to choose a service desk product. Today, at the centre of the F4 IT operation is service desk software from ManageEngine. “This is our core system, our bread and butter,” he said.

It is used across F4 IT’s customer base, and Whitfield was attracted by ManageEngine’s capability to adapt to fit the customer’s processes rather than the other way around. “It is highly customisable and the software can be written to suit how an organisation works,” he said.

The system has enabled the team to centralise internal IT processes, driving efficiency and saving IT technicians up to half a day a week. “It is also more than just a service desk, with a big suite of products, including patch management capabilities, remote control software and mobile device management,” said Whitfield.

He added that despite its split from the NHS, the team has a guiding principle not out of sync with the national gem: “We must always remember that the impact of everything we do is with a clinician and a patient at the end of every decision, change and improvement.”

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