Following a recent announcement that fax machines are to be phased out across the NHS, a report has now come out claiming that Health Secretary Matt Hancock intends to ban pagers in the NHS in England. The pagers will need to be phased out entirely by the end of 2021, and all Trusts are expected to have a plan in place by September 2020 detailing how they will ensure that this happens. On 27th February, Alan Mak presented a Private Member’s Bill in the House of Commons to make the above requirements a legal obligation for all NHS Trusts.
Why are pagers to be banned?
By and large, pagers are now considered to be an outdated technology. The NHS currently uses 10% of the remaining pagers globally, and this comes at a cost of around £6 million per annum. Reports have shown that NHS staff often become frustrated with this outdated technology, with some even taking matters into their own hands and communicating patient information via social media tools, such as WhatsApp.
The Heath Secretary believes that there are alternatives available which can provide huge increases in productivity. A trial of one particular device at West Suffolk Hospital saved nurses more than 20 minutes per shift, and doctors around 50 minutes per shift.
Will it be easy for the NHS to phase out pagers?
The total phase-out of pagers may provide challenges to the NHS. The NHS uses pagers because they work. Historically, they have been the only solution to summon assistance in an emergency. They are well-understood and generally reliable.
However, the fact that the NHS is the only remaining large consumer of pagers is also a risk. A small number of suppliers means limited competition and makes it more difficult to achieve value for money. In addition, the reducing market means that product development is restricted; products have had to evolve to meet the requirements of changing IT architectures and, in some cases, this is leading to reductions in robustness and resilience. The small market also means that the support infrastructure is limited, and engineers have had to drive many hundreds of miles in order to attend to faults. Legacy solutions are generally not efficient and do not meet the communications expectations of the incoming generation of doctors, nurses and support staff.
What are the alternatives?
When it comes to organisational communication, a wide range of alternative solutions is emerging. This includes the messaging capability associated with new unified communications solutions, such as Microsoft Teams, Cisco Teams, Unify Circuit or Mitel Teamwork; dedicated messaging applications targeted towards healthcare, such as Medic Bleep and CommonTime; the possibility for an add-on module for existing clinical information or patient administration systems; the appropriate use of social media; wireless voice and telephony solutions based upon telephony platforms or dedicated clinical solutions, such as Vocera; and many other possible solutions.
What challenges are likely to arise?
There are real opportunities associated with improved communication technology within the NHS, but there may also be many issues, dependencies and constraints that occur.
Firstly, this could be as a result of a poor understanding of the NHS’ communications requirements. Generally speaking, the NHS has two distinct needs for its communications: critical/emergency requirements, whereby lives are at stake and so communication must be real-time and 100% available, and other messaging requirements which are important but not necessarily urgent. There will likely also be a requirement for a range of variations or hybrids of the above.
The key challenges include the need for ubiquitous wireless connectivity throughout an entire organisation; device policy, ie. whether an organisation will only trust the devices provided or operate a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) scheme; culture; compliance; and, of course, risk. At all stages it must be kept in mind that people’s lives will be depending on the chosen solution.
The final challenge is, of course, cost. In simple terms, new solutions are likely to cost more than the current arrangements. Annual expenditure of tens of thousands is likely to increase to hundreds of thousands, alongside the significant cost of change.
The business case exists, but it is highly complex and needs to involve stakeholders on a Trust-wide basis; it cannot be constrained within the IT department.
What do NHS Trusts need to do now?
All English NHS Trusts need to have plans in place to phase out their pagers by September 2020 in order to meet the Health Secretary’s requirement, which is likely to become legislation. This is likely to lead to the undertaking of a complex project, including a multi-faceted business case, major investment in new technology, the procurement of new systems and service conformant with procurement rules, and significant organisational change.
Whilst the Health Secretary’s guidelines apply to England only, it is highly likely that other regions of the UK will adopt the same policies in due course.
How 4C Strategies can help
With over 20 years of experience supporting NHS organisations, 4C Strategies understands the culture and DNA of the NHS. We are a team of independent IT consultants, meaning that we have a strong understanding of the whole market for alternative solutions and we create strategies that are led by organisational requirements, not by solutions.
4C Strategies is able to assist with the entire lifecycle, including strategy, business case, procurement and transformation. To book a free, no-obligation consultation, contact 4C Strategies today on 01858 438938, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.