NHS organisations in Plymouth are beginning the roll-out of one of the largest Internet Protocol (IP)-based telephone implementations yet seen in the NHS, in a move that should deliver £600,000 in savings.

The Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust (PHNT) and Plymouth Teaching Primary Care Trust have signed a ten-year £1.2 million deal with Mitel and HP solutions to provide a new combined voice and data network for healthcare organisations in Plymouth.

The IP-based solution, to be delivered over the next five to seven years, will enable telephony to be delivered over the new network as an application in the same way as email, allowing staff to make phone calls from a handset, mobile or even laptop over the web from hospitals, GPs surgeries, clinics and health centres. Routing calls over the network will mean that all calls are free.

Staff working at the new headquarters of Peninsula Medical School have been the first to be connected to the IP telephony system, which is currently being rolled out to 150 staff at the new build.  

The two organisations, which operate across 80 sites, will use the new combined network to be ready to locally deliver electronic care records, telephony costs and eliminate the costs of running separate voice and data networks.  Eventually the system will include 6,000 IP users.

Rob Harder, telecoms manager, Plymouth Health Community said, “Our primary concerns were related to the capacity of our network and its ability to meet the increasingly data-centric demands of the NHS, as well as the wider deployment of common health services. We needed the capacity to deliver it all.”

The new converged network will form an integral part of major infrastructure developments in Plymouth, worth approximately £300 million of NHS funding. These include expanding existing sites and building new ones, such as the new Peninsula Medical School, a new wing at Derriford Hospital and new local care centres, including a planned care centre.

“IP telephony is a high capital investment, our opportunity was the funding that would be coming with the new builds,” Harder told E-Health Insider.  “Every minor or major new project will be delivered with IP telephony, ranging from a department with five phones up to the new wing of Derriford Hospital opening in 2006."

“With these physical builds over the next seven to 10 years we did a financial study on capital spend and resource implications,” said Harder.  “Over 10 years IP telephony option should save us about £600,000 based on generic costs."  He said the savings derived from call costs and reduced infrastructure management costs.

He said that additional benefits will come from “having just a single converged network to support” which will enable “voice communications to be better used as a business tool".

“The IP network will enable us to deliver voice as just another application like email," said Harder. He added that because it is delivered over a network staff will be able to access telephony using Ip phones, mobile handsets or even using their laptops.

Plymouth Health Community decided to implement an IP solution after conducting an analysis with Maintel, which compared costs over a 10-year period. After evaluating different options they decided to go for an IP telephony solution.

“We evaluated all the major IP vendors and chose Mitel because they could deliver the capacity that was required and it is very cost effective. Also, it was a great benefit that we didn’t have to replace our existing system, being able to migrate to IP at our pace,” said Harder.

Plymouth Health Community also evaluated IT network vendors for its infrastructure and selected HP Procurve to service their data network infrastructure. The Mitel IP solution will provide PHC with the means to move to a converged voice communications system, which is optimised for its distributed environment.