NHS Western Isles is rolling out a free wi-fi network for staff and patients in an effort to increase mobile working and internet access.

The health board, which covers 15 islands stretching over 130 miles, has already deployed mobile devices to staff, but wanted to improve its support for them.

Jon Harris, Western Isles’ director of informatics, told EHI the wi-fi network was already rolled out at Stornoway Hospital, the health board’s main site, and that it is ready to go at the two smaller hospitals.

“We’ve begun improving our secure network for clinical data, but also decided to put in a free public wi-fi. The idea of putting people in hospital and not letting them have access to emails is not something I agree with,” he said.

“Another part of it is letting staff use their own devices for personal stuff. If they want to go on Facebook during their lunch break, they can do that, and we have a separate secure network for our hospital systems on the N3 server.”

Harris said there was an opportunity to interact with the public on the free wi-fi, and the health board is also in talks with GPs about introducing it to their practices.

“There are some really obvious quick wins. We’re talking to GPs as well about what we’ll need to do to make it appropriate in GP surgeries,” he said.

Mobile working is nothing new for the Scottish health board. Last year it implemented Cambric’s Cortix patient safety system, which is used on iPads, iPods and PCs to replace traditional paper handovers.

Harris said that the health board’s ‘EmRec’ electronic patient record project, which is due to go live in November, will integrate records across its healthcare services. The wi-fi initiative will also support this project.

“There’s also a way of using it for the benefits of the EPR. The opportunity the wi-fi gives is that we can use mobile devices across the health board.

“It’s now being extended to the hospital in Barra. It’s a small unit, with only five beds, so if you can access the patient data on a handheld device, it can instantly be shared.

“A nurse can consult more senior staff in other locations. Part of the objective is to make the data available to a clinician at any given time regardless of where they may be.”

The health board is also looking to share data with the local authority as a lot of patients are cared for across both health and social care.

“We’re about to embark on a piece of work to do data sharing with the local authority. We’ve done a proof of concept and we know it’s doable so we’re getting final sign off on governance at the moment,” said Harris.

He added that the health board is also in talks about sharing its digital pen technology with social care, while looking at the scheduling system that they use.