Care UK | From provider to partner
Gamma answers the call for Care UK
When lives can quite literally depend on a phone call, you’d better hope that the phone service being used is the most reliable there is. But for Care UK, largest private sector supplier of NHS 111 urgent cover across a big part of the UK including London, the choice of SIP and hosted telephony provider was a simple one.
Like it or not we all need care at some time. Whether it’s urgent and emergency care, non-urgent primary healthcare or, later on in life, social care in a residential home.
A number of specialist providers bring private sector efficiencies, economies of scale and business know-how to bear. And leading the field is Care UK, the country’s largest independent provider of health and social care.
- The group’s primary care portfolio includes the NHS 111 helpline, GP services, urgent care, health in justice, and out-of-hours care.
- In secondary care it provides hospital services, clinical assessment and treatment, and diagnostic services.
In tandem with its NHS services, Care UK also has a successful residential care business with more than 120 care homes and day clubs across the UK with some 8,000 team members caring for 7,000 people every day.
With demand for care rising and budgets under increasing pressure, the UK government relies more and more on the private sector to supplement, and in some cases, take over the job of care provision.
Care UK has chosen Gamma as its telecoms partner in a major consolidation, modernisation and future-proofing programme of its large and diverse telephony estate, something which had built up over time as the company has grown both organically and by acquisition.
The overarching strategy of the whole rationalisation exercise is to move from an on-premise model to a hosted one, built entirely around Gamma’s Horizon platform. The benefits of the move include more flexibility, a much-reduced technical support overhead, better resilience, and lower costs.
The exception to the 100% hosted rule is Care UK’s NHS 111 provision which remains rooted in on-premise switches and Gamma SIP connectivity. But isn’t it something of a leap of faith for a business in a field as important as health and care where the phone is often a critical lifeline, to put all its telephony eggs in one basket?
Not according to Head of IT Infrastructure and Operations, Jason Wells. “I’ve got no problem at all trusting a hosted solution like Horizon and a supplier like Gamma,” he says. “We spent a lot of time evaluating the options and looking at different on-premise switches and different suppliers.”
“It might seem hard to believe but the resilience I could get from the Horizon hosted platform was far better than anything I could get from not one but two on-premise solutions, one backing up the other.”
"The phone system is user friendly and has been helpful in allowing us to divert patients to more appropriate extensions, meaning that they get to speak to the correct person first time. It allows us to easily see calls queuing, measure team performance and has helped reduce abandoned call rates." - Michelle Saunders, Primary Care Lead for CATS and Diagnostic Services
Fourteen months on and the move to Horizon is progressing well. The roll out is complete to 20 large healthcare centres and is in progress to deliver Horizon to more than 120 care homes all the way from Dorset to Aberdeenshire.
The company also operates three contact centres based on the Horizon platform’s call centre functionality. All use the Akixi cloud-based reporting system which is deployed to provide both real-time and historical information.
Wells has no regrets about the decision to go the hosted route with Horizon, either from a business perspective or an IT perspective. “Switching to Gamma has been the best move we’ve ever made,” he says. “We’re getting a better service that’s more resilient, more reliable, simple to expand upon and we’re saving money.”
With a legacy telephony estate of multiple different systems anything from 30 years old to six months old, and from a large number of different suppliers, it presented something of a nightmare to manage, support, service and locate spares for. Now Horizon is rolling out and a complex matrix of costly hardware and software support contracts is unwinding, that particular headache is coming to an end.
“There were a lot of old legacy phone systems and they came with a lot of costs, both financial and in support time. The ongoing support across a whole mix of different handsets and systems was proving very expensive, and keeping them all up to date was substantially challenging.
“In the case of one PBX platform the vendor wanted a seven-figure amount just to keep it running, which made our decision very easy. We’ll be saving at least £600,000 over three years by moving to Gamma’s Horizon. We’ve moved away from aging on-premise phone systems, moved away from a Monday to Friday 9am-5pm support model to 24 x 7 x 365 support model, brand new handsets, unlimited expansion and made significant financial savings. If there ever was a ‘no brainer’, this was it.”
“We’ll be saving at least £600,000 over three years by moving to Gamma’s Horizon.”
Projects of the sheer breadth and scale of that at Care UK – which will eventually see 3,500 Horizon seats deployed – can have their challenges. Wells mentions, almost in passing, one or two relatively minor hiccups. But overall, he has been more than happy with Gamma’s project management team and with its installation support. “Gamma’s project team have worked really well with our own project people. That matters in a 24/7 environment like a hospital where work can’t stop because somebody wants to install a phone or reconfigure a router,” he says.
The Care UK project team was even nominated for an award at the annual Healthcare awards ceremony for the successful implementation of the new telephone system at the largest Care UK treatment centre in Southampton by the sites’ operations manager.
“The central IT team focused on a project to roll out a new telephony system across Care UK. The project is vitally important not only to upgrade outdated systems but to provide real cost savings across the company as well as give the front line staff a modern and effective telephony service. Each site roll out involves planning, site engagement and organisation and training and support to front line services. The day after ‘the night before’ they were on site running around to all departments snagging any issue that arose – there was nothing they couldn’t solve.
“They deserve a very big thank you from all of us – many staff would have crumbled under the pressure they found themselves in. Well done, and thank you.”
Horizon, even though it is still being rolled out, is proving to be a complete success across the business. Its flexibility allows simple changes and moves, and it is equally easy to scale up or scale down deployments as business needs change.
“We get all the Horizon functionality as needed,” says Wells. “It can be everything from a basic telephone through to voicemail and hunt groups. The reporting functionality in particular is very powerful: we’ve not seen anything that advanced before. It provides all the information we need.
“Best of all is the flexibility and convenience with the Horizon solution. We no longer need remote engineering visits to install and configure new telephones, all can be done remotely on a simple portal. Best of all is the automated procurement feature, which enables extra pre-configured handsets to be purchased for a site from the portal and are delivered pre-10am next day.”
For all of the work it does in the country’s healthcare sector, it will always be the NHS 111 part of Care UK’s operations that earn the most attention. By its very nature the service handles calls from people when they are at their most worried and most vulnerable.
Providing excellent customer service, and the systems needed to back it up, is not just a responsibility on the high street. It is here that the resilience and availability of Gamma’s SIP services are all-important. It is no exaggeration to say that practically every hour of every day the NHS 111 service takes at least one phone call from someone who is suffering a heart attack, or where a heart attack is in progress.”
“It’s a blue light service and it’s very important it does not go down and for that reason we have some really stringent SLAs in place.”
Duty of Care
The duty of care Wells and his company have to both those who call in to the service and to the NHS bodies that commission it is never far from his mind. It clearly has a bearing on how the service operates at an IT level, and on the vendors chosen to help provide it.
Behind the scenes, the NHS 111 service runs on dual, top-of-the-range Avaya telephone switches located at two separate data centres, one switch backing up the other. 1200 Gamma SIP channels provide sufficient capacity to meet the busiest seasonal peaks. In total the service answers more than four million calls a year.
With experience of Gamma as a supplier of ISDN and PSTN circuits to Care UK for several years before the current consolidation, Wells and his colleagues were confident in trusting Gamma with providing the SIP channels needed for NHS 111. That confidence has not been misplaced.
According to Wells, Gamma’s support for the NHS 111 service has been exemplary, that part of Care UK’s business receiving Gamma’s very highest level of emergency 24/7 cover. And while patient wellbeing will always be the primary concern, Care UK also faces financial penalties should it fail to meet contracted levels of service.
“We know with Gamma’s SIP that we have the capacity and flexibility we need to meet the very busiest periods. Saturday nights tend to be the busiest for call volumes, but that can easily double on bank holidays, especially at Christmas and Easter, when we might be dealing with a concurrency of as many as 900 calls. We’ve got to have the flexibility and capacity to handle that level of work and Gamma provides it.”
“With SIP, Gamma are pretty much number one in that market. While you can’t forecast absolutely everything, their performance has been very good over the last two years and they’ve stuck rigidly to the SLAs. Stability and uptime have been excellent.”