Lord Carter’s review into NHS operational efficiency and productivity identified a wide variation in hospital performance and a plethora of opportunities that the Trusts need to act upon to deliver the desired £5 billion per year efficiency savings, whilst at the same time optimising patient care and outcomes.
One major issue affecting operational efficiency is that poor communications are costing the NHS millions of pounds every year and adversely impacting patient care and clinical outcomes.
Better collaboration and communication both within a hospital and across the local health infrastructure is often key to delivering many of the required improvements. A big part of the answer lies in new and innovative approaches to unified communication. Tools like Skype for Business give hospitals the full spectrum of communication tools needed to drive efficiency and reform. It enables organisations to replace their existing telephone systems with a modern multi-channel communications platform combining voice, video, desktop sharing, conferencing, instant messaging and user presence in one interface, which is accessible from any device, anytime, anywhere.
We at GCI believe that although there have been some early adopters and pockets of best practice, many more Trusts need to act now to replace old communications platforms and practices that no longer meet the needs of a modern organisation. A focus on a few key areas could deliver the big changes needed, quickly.
Delayed Transfers of Care
Lord Carter has called for action to be taken on the ‘major problem’ of delayed transfers of care, which affects hospitals and trusts’ earning and spending capacity. “Bed blocking” is estimated to cost the NHS in England over £900 million per year, with nearly one in 10 beds taken by someone medically classified as fit to be released. ‘Bed blocking’ often leaves more critically ill patients waiting on trolleys in corridors for hours waiting to be admitted to a ward.
Whether it is finding the Consultant to sign-off the patient discharge, or agreeing with the right contact in the Local Authority’s Adult Care team for the transfer of the patient to their next place of care, instant collaboration is at the heart of delivering the transformation needed. Unified Communications facilitates multi-channel communication to identifying the right contact who is available to engage with right now. The old communication tools of email and voicemail often result in communication black holes. In high pressure environments across the NHS and Local Authorities, this can take hours or even days to resolve.
Improving staff efficiency
Acute NHS trusts spend £55.6 billion every year, £33.9 billion of which goes on staffing.
Lord Carter estimates a 1% improvement in staff productivity will save the NHS £280 million a year, which equates to hospitals using new working methods that would save every member of staff 5 minutes on an 8 hour shift.
Skype for Business enables staff to use ‘Presence’ to see if the colleague they need to consult with is available, send an instant message, share relevant documents or video-call to achieve rapid resolution to an issue. Saving five minutes in an eight hour shift should be easily achievable with the rollout a modern integrated communications platform.
Greater collaboration, greater pace
Carter has also called for hospitals to do more to standardise procedures, be more transparent and work more closely with neighbouring NHS trusts to deliver efficiencies. In the field of unified communication there is no need to over-engineer specialised NHS solutions, or take 6-12 months of consultation and planning before you start. Our experience shows that Skype for Business will provide the tools that facilitate safe and secure collaboration through Instant Messaging, Conferencing and Voice today that will not only facilitate collaboration within an organisation but also with neighbouring Trusts, Local Authorities and others.
The resulting savings and efficiencies can be delivered within a few months, not the years associated with many similar projects in the past.
Mike Ayres is Chief Commercial Officer at GCI