7 April 2016
The 2013 healthcare reforms fundamentally changed how crucial support services were brought into the NHS. Commissioning Support Units (CSUs) were introduced and given the task of procuring on behalf of designated English regions, with the brief of making improvements while reducing costs.
Part of the job for the North East London (NEL) CSU is providing high quality IT to a number of clinical and administrative NHS units, across the capital and the east of England. But, almost as soon as the CSU was created, those in charge realised that they were working with outdated telecommunications systems that were failing to meet the needs of frontline staff.
The challenge for NEL was to implement a robust, flexible and cost efficient new communications system that would serve health workers, GPs and specialists today, as well as in the future.
A legacy estate
As soon as NEL took over the management of IT solutions for their NHS region, they found a variety of legacy solutions – and a number of problems caused by them.
The health centres that relied on the CSU were working with an ISDN system, as well as a number of copper circuits – added to cater for additional capacity after the original PBX installation. Because of its age and inflexibility, ISDN was costing far more than it should have. And as inflexible by their very nature, the fixed line circuits were not able to respond to capacity fluctuations.
NEL needed to be in a place where they could react to the needs of their staff, the members of the public they work for and any seasonal changes their services might experience effectively.
The new solution
With a definite idea of what they needed from their communications system, NEL set about the procurement process. After speaking to several providers, it became apparent that SIP trunking was the ideal product to meet their overarching comms goals – and public sector commitments. Why did SIP work for NEL?
SIP over ethernet replaced the costly ISDN infrastructure and copper circuitry. This gave NEL an immediate cost saving, on top of the initial benefit from a competitively priced solution.
Through a close and collaborative provider relationship, 3,000 DDI numbers were ported from the old telecoms solution to the new seamlessly. Also, installation was phased, meaning minimum disruption to business as usual, for maximum reward.
When they were working with copper circuits, NEL were unable to scale their telephony up and down, according to need and demand. In real terms this meant that, during busy periods, they could not easily provide contingent staff with phone lines.
With SIP that has all changed. The system allows for the quick and easy addition of new lines and numbers – a plus point that NEL has already taken advantage of.
Efficient call management
To work alongside their new SIP system, NEL took on an Inbound call service. Inbound gave them better call management tools than they had ever experienced, including routing, queuing, statistics and the ability to build their own call plans.
Part of the reason that SIP trunking is enjoying such popularity at the moment is because it is the most resilient telecommunications system on the market. SIP comes business continuity ready, with the in-built ability to re-route calls to back-up locations immediately (and without changing the number the end user dials).
Healthcare services simply cannot go offline. So for NEL this aspect of SIP was genuinely invaluable. It means the people who need to speak to the doctors, nurses and support staff under NEL’s jurisdiction can do so – whenever they need to.
North East London’s story is a great demonstration of the power of good communications systems. But SIP trunking is changing the way healthcare professionals interact with patients and each other across the NHS. Its flexibility and easy management means that there will always be lines available for those who need to use them. While its cost and business continuity benefits give IT managers the peace of mind that comes with knowing their systems are working well and saving money.