Microsoft Teams is being rolled out across the entire NHS to support remote working during the coronavirus outbreak, Digital Health News can reveal.
Between 16 – 20 March, all users of NHSmail in England and Scotland will be given access to Teams, the Microsoft workplace collaboration platform that forms part of the Office365 suite.
The roll-out of the software has been accelerated to help NHS teams better communicate and collaborate around their responses to Covid-19, and counter the increased risks associated with the virus.
Microsoft Teams enables users to send instant messages, make internal calls, share, edit and collaborate on files and documents in one central, secure location.
For NHS organisations that run NHSmail, all users will have access to Teams, subject to local administration and configuration. NHS Digital will support implementation of Microsoft Teams locally via its NHSmail support site.
Those NHS organsiations that don’t run NHSmail will need to contact Microsoft directly.
Official guidance seen by Digital Health News states: “Enabling Teams will be a corporate decision for each organisation to consider due to the potential impact on local network capacity.”
Digital Health News understands that Teams is being offered to NHSmail organisations for three months initially through restricted licenses for Windows 10 Enterprise E3, which also includes access to Office 365.
Non-NHSmail organisations will be able to apply to Microsoft for free E1 licenses for six months.
It is understood that NHS and Microsoft have agreed to assess the terms on a continual bases, given the uncertainty of the landscape, to ensure all NHS staff have access to the collaboration tools they need to carry out vital work.
Once the trial licenses expire, non-NHSmail organisations will need to fund licenses if they wish to continue to use the capabilities. NHSmail users will continue to benefit once NHS Digital moves forward with planned updates to the service.
Ian Phoenix, director of technology at NHS Digital, said: “Technology is key to supporting patients who are self-isolating and makes sure they have the information they need and access to medical support and advice.
“For doctors and NHS staff this means that working remotely becomes much easier and more practical.”
Digital Health News also understands that a separate, national agreement for the video consult platform, Attend Anywhere, has also been cleared.
Attend Anywhere, which is already in use by NHS Scotland, is a web-based platform that offers basic video call functionality for health and care providers.
The platform generates a weblink that providers can send to patients, which activates a video call with patients at a set time.
NHS organisations have escalated their response to Covid-19 as cases of infections in the UK increase, and NHS services face a huge a surge in demand.
It was announced this week that NHS Digital has been granted new powers to make it easier for the organisation to assess data on the disease so that it can introduce new digital countermeasures more easily.
Health secretary Matthew Hancock has also issued a notice under the ‘Control of Patient Information’ regulations (COPI)1 authorising NHS Digital to disseminate information to approved organisations in order to help them to effectively tackle the pandemic.
Some suppliers of health tech have been offering their solutions free of charge to help GPs and NHS trusts meet the sharp increase in demand for video consultations and health triaging, amid government advice to reduce social contact.
At the same time, chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a raft of measures in this year’s budget to support the NHS during the spread of Covid-19. Part of the £30 billion package was the automation of sick notes for patients who are self-isolating.