Professor Sultan Mahmud, Director of Healthcare, BT

At its core, the NHS is made by the people who work within it, helping to keep things going just like a beating heart. Today, technology is the pacemaker for supporting connectivity and communication, working to deliver important information between staff and health services, streamlining communications at an optimal rate, and synchronising the beat of workers. Following the Covid-19 pandemic, digital transformation efforts have come a long way, reducing cultures of resistance to digital change. 74% of NHS workers see a positive relationship between technology, care and quality of work, driving a willingness to embrace innovation.

However, healthcare organisations are facing considerable pressures, and these are further exacerbated by technology performance issues that can trigger additional stress for frontline workers. For example, one in four (24%) NHS employees have reverted to older processes due to connectivity issues and 42% feel staff burnout is a barrier to further innovation. Simply put, many deployments are not delivering the benefits promised and a new process is required to ensure the everyday challenges end-users face are prioritised just as much as the bigger, headline issues. When this is achieved, we improve tech’s performance and usability, and allow NHS workers to focus on what’s important.

As a proud and trusted partner of the NHS, we know that there’s more to adopting technology than just its deployment. Achieving real-world successes means taking a collaborative grass-roots approach to best inform the development of intuitive solutions to support staff. With this in mind, BT’s Healthcare team surveyed 197 staff at 136 different NHS and Integrated Care System organisations within the NHS, to understand the appetite and opportunity for digital innovation, as well as unpick current pain points to overcome.

Steadfast infrastructures

It is imperative any form of operation or healthcare procedure is managed carefully and meticulously. Naturally, with all change there is risk of complications, and it’s inevitable a rehabilitation period is needed for the body to adjust and recover. Similarly, when it comes to digital transformation projects, BT’s whitepaper reveals obstacles and compatibility issues appearing between legacy systems and new technology solutions.

A digitally enhanced healthcare service is typically characterised by the seamless analysis and sharing of data. However, evidence suggests friction is felt across NHS departments. Among respondents with insights into patient data access and transmission, 41% cite data as isolated in inoperable systems, limiting the interchange of information, whilst 75% note a lack of existing skills and resources is standing in the way of digital progression.

Often adding to these obstacles is departments and buildings not having the right infrastructure in place. For the NHS, poor tech foundations are exacerbating problems for an already stretched service. Investment is required to provide a solid footing on which to build and take advantage of the latest smart technology which can be successfully overlayed.

Re-opening connectivity valves

Ideally, connectivity is invisible, discreetly performing in the background without interruptions. It is not until the buffering begins that poor connectivity becomes noticeable, and users comprehend its utmost importance. Whilst 98% of staff agree that network, wi-fi infrastructure and mobile technology is critical to future innovations in the delivery of healthcare, over half (58%) of respondents cite connectivity not-spots with little to no signal, alongside difficulties implanting new technology with existing systems (59%). In response to this, 51% of workers admit to switching between devices to carry out tasks as a workaround.

Evidently, underlying network inefficiencies can’t support new digital capabilities, and knowledge gaps between workers are often leading to temporary fixes. This is a cause for concern, regressing to previous processes will continue to drain valuable time, resources, and money, when really the technology should just work.

Dr Mateen Jiwani, practicing GP, Non-executive Director for Essex Partnership University Trust and member of BT’s Clinical Advisory Board, agrees infrastructure and connectivity is of high importance for supporting the here and now. “There is a translational gap created by technology producers who lack the relevant understanding, developing solutions that don’t work as intended on the ground. Frontline workers need the smaller problems resolved quickly. Enrolling practical solutions to the local problems must be the priority”.

As a long-term partner of the NHS, BT’s healthcare team is supporting the NHS to address the everyday challenges that hinder staff. Our Clinical Board drives our decision making, so that we are co-creating and deploying innovation that delivers value from the ground up.

Collaboration unlocking transformative care

To successfully manage the NHS’ digital modernisation, we need to start at the source of these connectivity pinpoints, understanding where they are so the challenges that will inevitably arise later down the line can be addressed from the offset.

Listening to NHS Trusts about the challenges their workers face and then applying a more collaborative, clinically-led, digitally enabled approach for introducing new technologies is the approach needed, and it’s the foundation of BT’s Vanguard Innovation Programme. Our mission is to reset the relationship between the NHS and BT, pivoting our approach to fully identify with the NHS’ challenges and issues first, then co-creating innovative solutions together to provide value-add technology that actually works, where staff need it most.

BT is committed to listening to those at the heart of the NHS and our Clinical Board is designed to make informed decisions based on its deep knowledge of the NHS’ true challenges. We are proud to support the NHS, with one of our many goals to coordinate integration management and help break down barriers to adoption, so those on the frontline can perform to the best of their ability, enhance care, and deliver greater patient outcomes.