Another NHS systems failure – the risks of legacy on-premise systems exposed
I woke up on Monday morning to read of another systems failure in the NHS – this time a critical systems failure at Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust. I’d be lying if I claimed to be shocked.
It appears that the entire trust – 5 hospitals as well as GP practices and other community sites were paralysed by a full systems outage affecting phones, email and clinical systems. To do so over a Monday – generally the busiest day for A&E and GP practices – only adds to the pressure the IT team were undoubtedly facing, and the frustration I’m sure many patients were feeling.
I won’t be critical of the IT team. Having worked with many care providers across the NHS, we at Sesui are acutely aware of the difficulties they face keeping critical services operational. But what this latest failure demonstrates is the potential catastrophic implications of relying on aging, vulnerable platforms for critical services. While the full causes appear to still be unknown (or at least not communicated) it seems pertinent to ask questions of how such a situation can be prevented in future.
The fact that communications channels were affected would undoubtedly have had an impact on the sense of chaos around the Trust during the outage, and it’s one reason why many providers – especially those with a remit for urgent care provision – are turning the robustness and security of Private Cloud communications.
In doing so, they’re building in levels of resilience that just aren’t in place when relying on on-premise platforms: In the worst case – as appears to be the case in Torbay – telephones seem to have been “collateral damage” of an issue affecting other parts of the system. That means that when things went wrong, the Trust’s ability to communicate out to patients – and to GPs, Clinicians and other employees – to tell them not to attend hospital, or to direct them elsewhere – were hampered.
Taking communications into the cloud not only separates them from other systems, removing the threat of any impact from wider system failures, it also enables you to react quickly to exactly these kinds of crises, managing down the impact on service users and hospitals.
A cloud-based communications platform could have helped Torbay reach out to patients with planned operations to rearrange, being capable of quickly adding extra lines to deal with demand, rather than having them turn up on the day, only to be told to go home. It may have enabled GPs to conduct more patient consultations and triages by phone, or in the worst-case scenario, could have enabled all calls to be directed to neighbouring care providers to ensure some level of service continuity.
Of course, all of this is easy to point out in retrospect, but it’s also exactly why, in our 15 years of working with Healthcare providers, none of our clients have experienced major communications outages. The likes of NHS Improvements and IUC providers FedBucks and LCW rely on our platforms to ensure they’re capable of making and taking critical patient calls in any situation. We work with them to ensure not only that the day-to-day communication needs of patients, clinicians, call centre teams, and reception staff are met, but that the flexibility, scalability and resilience that are required during times of crisis are there too.
If you’ve been following the Torbay story wondering how your organisation would manage in such a situation, or simply want to understand how a cloud platform can improve the effectiveness of your patient communications during the day-to-day as well as in times of crisis, do get in touch.