Over 7,500 staff working across 160 GP surgeries, health centres and acute hospitals in St Helens and Knowsley, Merseyside, are now connected to a new Community of Interest Network (COIN), enabling healthcare information to be accessed and shared across the region in real time.

Deployment of the £4.2m COIN began in July last year and was completed towards the end of 2007.

Faster treatment, reduced waiting times and better use of NHS resources are some of the improvements patients in parts of Liverpool and Merseyside are experiencing from the new COIN, according to the trusts involved.

Using Cisco technology, health workers across the local trusts now have instant access to records, stored in two separate data centres, which host the area’s clinical applications and data.

Neil Darvill, director of informatics at St Helens & Knowsley Hospitals NHS Trust, told E-Health Insider: “As a shared informatics service for the whole health community, this COIN has meant that we have been able to work on one IT strategy for the whole region on the one budget. As each trust goes live, information is made available for sharing as appropriate, with full security measures included. For example, it has meant we have not had to order separate order comms solutions for GPs and the hospital as the one system is on the same network.

“From the support perspective, we can resolve 80 – 90% of faults remotely and have systems back up and running straight away without helpdesk engineers having to go out. As we expand to cover more GP practices, and most recently Halton PCT which merged with St Helens PCT, it means that we are immediately available to help all the time and information is available instantly, so patients are not kept waiting long.”

The trust say this is helping to reduce the time patients wait to see consultants and specialists, and is also helping to make the job easier for locum doctors because they have immediate access from any location to records of patients they may never have seen before.

Dr James Heath, managing director of Aston Healthcare, which has a network of 10 GP surgeries caring for 33,500 patients in Knowsley, said: “Being able to access records of drugs and treatment not just from a GP, but any health centre or hospital, and have that information available wherever it’s needed instantly is a huge asset to improving healthcare.

“In the past, our GPs were carrying out various medical tests, and results were getting to consultants a week later. With the Cisco network, information is being shared much faster, and we have seen waiting times for consultant appointments cut to days, if not hours in some cases.”

Using Cisco Unified Communications and Cisco Unified Contact Centre, which provide IP telephony and contact centre capabilities to hospitals and individual GP surgeries, telephony costs have also been reduced. The trust can now make cost free telephone calls over the network to other sites on the COIN.

The trusts say that as a result of switching to the COIN structure, local GPs are seeing treatment and hospital waiting times cut to days instead of weeks. Patients in the Liverpool and Merseyside area are also experiencing faster treatment, reduced waiting times and better use of NHS resources.

Cisco’s UK and Ireland sector manager for healthcare, Terry Espiner, told EHI: “The use of Cisco technology as part of their new COIN is creating huge benefits for the health professionals in St Helens and Knowsley. GPs can find and enter information from any healthcare settings, and can then receive test results in a matter of hours, as opposed to days. Information is available where and when it is needed and making it quick and easy for patients to contact a doctor or specialist wherever they are located.

“The network is providing them with better, faster and more effective patient care in real time. Using our equipment, the community is running over high bandwidth from ntl: Telewest Business and the extension ability of the network means they can take information with them wherever they travel. It’s a lot more useful than the usual high-stress, high-risk and data-intensive environments that are often dominated by paper-based processes and characterised by inefficient workflows.”