“Fantastic” was the word of the night at the EHI Awards 2011 in association with BT. It was certainly the word most commonly used by the winners as they came off stage after receiving their awards from host and comedian Sean Lock.
“This is fantastic. I am really pleased. This is a real boost for the work that has been done by the team and the people that we hope will use the system,” said Mark Lambert, after he received the first award for ‘most promising IT for GP commissioning.’
The award went to NHS South of Tyne and Wear for GPC+, a system aimed at giving GP commissioning consortia the information they need to deliver business objectives and improve services and clinical practice.
“[The system] has not been around for very long, but we have got real engagement from a wide range of clinicians,” Dr Lambert, the primary care trust’s chief knowledge officer added. “It is already helping them to get insight into the health problems of the area.”
Using technology to grapple with public health and commissioning challenges is not what the public associates with NHS IT.
As Lock joked in his opening spiel “you IT people are unsung heroes. You don’t get many people leaving hospital saying ‘thank you doctor, thank you nurse, and thank you IT people, those spreadsheets were wonderful’.”
Thanks to the winners of the next award, though, many NHS patients could leave hospital earlier. RealTime Health has developed a clinical process methodology backed up by a patient flow and decision support system that enables the patient’s journey to be effectively managed so they are ready for discharge at the earliest possible moment.
Dave Nurse, the chief technical officer of the company, said winning the ‘product innovation award’ was “fantastic” and “a great achievement.” Maxine Peel, from the West Middlesex University Hospital, which piloted the system last summer, said it had a huge impact.
“We reduced length of stay so much that we were able to shut two wards and 70 beds,” she said. “And we did that while improving clinical care.”
RealTime Health went on to be announced as the overall winner of the awards, which this year attracted more than 200 entries. As EHI editor Jon Hoeksma recognised in his opening speech, these were a “testament to the diverse range of IT projects being developed across the NHS”.
The next winner, NHS Sefton, won the ‘best use of social media in healthcare’ category for a project to give people access to health and NHS information through digital TV and mobile phones, working with Looking Local.
David Hammond, the organisation’s engagement officer, said the project was important because many people most in need of healthcare information might not have internet access in their homes. “This is not what people traditionally think of as social media, but it is an important part of the jigsaw,” he said.
Doing more with IT
The EHI Awards have received support from BT from the outset, and David Wilson, the vice-president and general manager of BT Health, said he was delighted to see them go from strength to strength.
He told the 400 guests gathered at the Grand Connaught Rooms in Covent Garden that IT had a bit part to play in helping the NHS meet the “unprecedented” financial challenge it was facing, while improving care.
“IT has to be seen as a fundamental tool for transforming the NHS,” he said. “Now is really the time to build momentum for health IT. We all need to work together to make sure staff and patients are supported by IT.”
Appropriately, one of the new categories in this year’s awards was ‘outstanding work in IT-enabled change in healthcare.’
It was won by the Pan-Birmingham Cancer Network and Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust for a system that alerts a keyworker when a known-cancer patient is admitted to hospital, so their care and discharge can be planned.
Adrian Kearns, service improvement facilitator at the trust, was starting to explain that the IT department had to overcome some initial scepticism, when Mandie Ballentine, one of its colorectal clinical nurse specialists, chipped in.
“We weren’t just a bit sceptical. We were completely sceptical,” she said. “But it has helped our patients enormously, so now we think it’s great.”
Another project with a clear focus on patients is NHS 24’s TelePulmonary Rehabilitation programme. This enables patients who live in rural areas or find it hard to travel to participate in rehabilitation classes using video conferencing technology, that also puts them in touch with others living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
It won the ‘best use of telehealth and telecare’ category, which project lead Morag Barrow said was “fantastic” and a tribute to the team that had worked on it. “Patients love it. It is financially beneficial. It is nice to get some recognition for something that has achieved so much,” she said.
One of the big challenges in NHS IT, and one that has been recognised by the awards since their inception, is joining up systems and freeing up the information they contain.
This year, the ‘innovation in healthcare interoperability’ award was won by Plymouth NHS ICT Shared Services for The RISK of Admission Patient Alert system.
This was built “from the bottom up” in response to communication challenges identified by clinicians, and enables information about patients who attend different services to be passed between primary, secondary and community healthcare services, using SMS and email.
Susan Bracey, head of software development and integration, said: “We had real engagement from clinicians. That was the key to this project. Now, they say they rely on this system, and would not be without it.”
Another system that focuses on passing vital patient information from one clinical team to another is the clinical handover solution developed by Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust and Ascribe Consulting. This won the ‘best use of IT to promote patient safety’ category.
Aklak Chaudhury, the clinical lead for the trust’s medical assessment unit, said it was “fantastic” to win, but the project was “not about IT” but about getting the right information into the right hands to mitigate “one of the biggest risks facing hospitals, particularly at weekends.”
One of the most hotly contested categories of the night was ‘best use of mobile technology in healthcare.’ The judges asked for two entries to be highly commended, but eventually awarded the prize to Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust and PaperIQ for a project to give digital pens and BlackBerry smartphones to midwives so they can record electronic notes while they are working.
This project was also highly commended in the overall category, which nearly overwhelmed lead midwife Sharon Hackett. “Let me rub the fingerprints off this trophy,” she said. “I am just so stunned to have won, when we were up against such great competition.”
She stressed that the midwives and the IT team had worked in partnership on the project, that has not only improved ways of working but saved up to £220,000 per year. “The IT team practically moved in with us, and the supplier as well,” she said.
Even more hotly contested was ‘excellence in major healthcare IT development’, which eventually had joint winners. NHS Direct and InferMed won for a project to rebuild and enhance the NHS Direct website and expand its digital services.
Enid Povey, head of clinical content, information and development, said the project had moved NHS Direct from being a telephone to a digital service, with huge benefits for patient access. “It is fantastic to win. This was a real team effort between NHS Direct and InferMed,” she said.
The other winner was the Scottish Care Information – Diabetes Collaboration, which is a real-time, web-based clinical information system to support the 238,000 people living with diabetes in Scotland.
SCI-DC uses data from all 1,050 general practices in Scotland, and all its hospitals, laboratories and screening services, and supports inter-disciplinary team working, while allowing patients to access their own records over the internet.
Technical consultant Scott Cunningham said he was “absolutely delighted” to win. “We were here [at the awards] last year and it was jolly, but it is much better to win this time,” he said.
Healthcare IT Champion of the Year
The final announcement of the night was the Healthcare IT Champion of the Year, a special category of the EHI Awards decided by nominations and votes from EHI readers. This year, the award went to James Norman, the IT director of Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust.
“I don’t know how to describe winning. I am speechless,” he said – after recovering from a period of real speechlessness. “I think a lot of our clinicians voted for me, and it’s great to think they are behind me and my team, because all the systems we have put in are there to help them do their jobs properly.”