The East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust is to become the first ambulance service to pilot new technology that provides robust connectivity for ambulance crews and vehicles, even in areas where cellular connectivity is impossible.

The technology being trialled is the Hybrid Connex. It amalgamates software, hardware and cellular and satellite services into one package that effectively creates permanent connectivity.

Hybrid Connex is a €5.7m research and development initiative co-funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) ARTES 5G Strategic Programme Line (SPL) and the UK Space Agency (UKSA) to create the prototype for pioneering an always-connected and cloud-based digital ambulance of the future.

It is being delivered by a consortium of partners led by UK emergency services connectivity specialists Excelerate Technology alongside NHS Arden and Greater East Midlands (GEM) Commissioning Support Unit (CSU), Livewire, the Satellite Applications Catapult and Vodafone.

Philip Elvidge, electronic patient record clinical lead and paramedic at East of England Ambulance Service, said: “Thetford Forest is renowned among our crews as a complete dead spot for cellular connection so if I end up responding to a call in Thetford, without good knowledge of local services and no connectivity to access that information, I may end up transporting that patient to hospital because I was unaware a more suitable pathway was available.”

The technology also improves the telemetry on cardiac monitors, allowing paramedics to send ECGs to specialist consultants ahead of a patient’s arrival – saving valuable time. In addition, having a solid connection supports effective video triage in cases where time is of the essence – such as with suspected strokes.

Access to new patient care pathways

This permanent connectivity for ambulance services will open the door for new patient care pathways, allowing them to take advantage of digital innovations. Ambulance crews will have access to more point-of-contact diagnostic services and tests, and will also be able to quickly and easily access immediate clinical information through electronic patient records (EPRs).

Hybrid Connex will also help fleet managers and financial managers within ambulance services handle the often-complex commercial aspects of connectivity, like billing, in a more efficient way. Ambulance staff themselves also gain from the technology, as it will enable them to catch up on their Continued Professional Development (CPD) during times when they would otherwise be waiting, such as during extended hospital handover delays.

Bethan Evans, chief operating officer at Excelerate Technology, said: “The resilience of the connection that we can now achieve is leading-edge technology that is being adopted in the most advanced parts of the world and we can now deliver that capability to our emergency services customers in the UK, the ambulance sector and its patients being the primary beneficiary.”

The pilot will involve six East of England ambulance vehicles and will run between August and October 2023. Following this the pilot will be evaluated and if proven successful offered as a service to other ambulance trusts. Other UK ambulance services are also being encouraged to pilot test the new technology completely free of charge.

Great Ormond Street has similarly worked to improve its ambulance teams’ connectivity, when it deployed real-time data-sharing technology to its Children’s Acute Transport Service (CATS) so ambulance teams can share vital data with remote doctors.