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Helping the NHS stay connected

Helping the NHS stay connected

Learn how technology has revolutionised the way North Bristol NHS Trust operates during the pandemic

By Laura Rutkowski, Staff Writer

When COVID-19 hit, it meant adapting – and fast – to a new normal. No one could have anticipated how quickly our lives would change on a weekly basis, let alone in the last four months. This is especially the case for people working in healthcare.


Andrew Parsonage, who has been Communications Manager at North Bristol NHS Trust for two and a half years, recognises that, by its nature, his job requires a degree of flexibility. It means you have to occasionally drop everything to respond to something quickly, frequently doing things outside of your day-to-day role. But the virus was another beast entirely. It meant doing all of this and much, much more in largely uncharted territory.

The trust had the mammoth challenge of bringing its digital transformation forward to support its own staff during these difficult times, as well as to help set up the NHS Nightingale Hospital Bristol.


Virgin Media Business has partnered with North Bristol NHS Trust on various projects and was already working with it on its digital transformation programme. Virgin Media Business was enlisted to create a digital hospital blueprint and an IT infrastructure in a matter of days, which has never been done before, and to help make the Nightingale completely paperless. Andrew says the partnership “took the pressure off, making sure we had the right tools to stay connected. It meant that we could move quicker”. 


Here’s Andrew, in his own words, on these extraordinary achievements that were completed in record time.


“We embarked on a digital transformation programme at the end of 2018. Compared to a lot of other areas, like banking or retail, the NHS was quite behind in terms of its digitisation. We’d started delivering new IT systems for staff, including patient care systems, and we’d done a fair bit of groundwork. We were quite heavily involved with the NHS Nightingale Hospital Bristol set-up because of this.


When COVID came, we had to accelerate the work we’d been doing. There was a network of Nightingale hospitals around the country at strategic points. They were set up as an overflow or contingency in the event of COVID admissions if the NHS and all our existing sites were overwhelmed.


Everyone’s really proud of what we delivered in recent months. North Bristol NHS Trust is the largest hospital trust in the southwest, so we cater to a large geographical area. It made sense the Nightingale was positioned here and could take people from places such as Bristol, Bath, Gloucestershire, South Wales, Somerset and Wiltshire. To create a facility like the Nightingale in a very short time is an amazing achievement and goes to show what can be done in a pressurised situation.


Even before COVID, a digital transformation was important because we worked with very archaic processes and practices and were heavily reliant on paper. Patient information was stuck in trolleys around the hospital. Our systems were fairly antiquated and didn’t talk to each other. The NHS set itself a target in 2016 to be paper-free by 2020 and we helped set up the Nightingale as a paper-free facility.


There was a very strong patient safety reason for pushing on with this. When COVID came in, that became even more important, because that need for multiple staff using or working from the same data in real-time, on different devices, wherever they were, became imperative. That’s why we fast-tracked and monitored our patient-facing systems. Seeing staff at a hospital bedside with an iPad is now a common sight, whereas a year ago it was the stuff of science fiction.


Training took place before COVID happened. For example, for one of our systems – which gives us a way to track patient observations, and in particular deteriorating patient conditions – we had a network of staff we called super users who were trained in advance on this particular system. Then they were able to train their colleagues and peers. What really helps is that a lot of stuff that’s been rolled out is fairly intuitive.


We’ve never worked through something like this before, but the way the staff dealt with the change was amazing. They just took to it. It is proof that when the chips are down and you need to change, people will be adaptable.


The technology and the systems that have come in are certainly saving staff time and it’s helping them work better together and communicate, which obviously has a bearing on the quality of the patient care we can provide. The intensive care unit has been very vocal about how it’s helped them. If you think they’re at the sharp end of the process, and they’re singing its praises, then we know we’re doing something right.


In the next 12 to 18 months, we’re running a new electronic patient record to replace our existing system. We’ve got a trust now where people are more digitally savvy than they were even in February. The aim is to try to bring everyone up to the same level. Collaborating is at the heart of the digital stretch we’re pushing. It’s a joint effort across a number of trusts in the southwest. It will be more change to come, but a good change.”

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