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Top 3 Challenges for NHS IT Departments

The National Health Service (NHS) is the name used for the 4 public health services in the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). The NHS provides a comprehensive range of health services, free for people ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom. Together the 4 National Health Services employ around 1.6 million people with a combined budget of £136.7 billion.

Over the last year my job has allowed me to be in contact with many IT professionals within the NHS. And I was surprised to find that many of these professionals were having the same struggles. But what surprised me the most was how little communication there is between the healthcare professionals in the UK.

In the Netherlands where I’m based, word of mouth between healthcare professionals, and many IT healthcare events mean that different hospitals and labs are constantly sharing their problems and also the solutions. So when there’s fewer avenues of conversation how can the UK healthcare industry share their problems?

Well I think one way is by sharing thoughts and experiences on social media pages like LinkedIn. So to begin that conversation I thought I could give a quick introduction on what I see to be the 3 biggest challenges faced by the NHS IT departments. This is excluding the issue of funding, because that’s a well-known challenge faced by the NHS across the board.

Keeping Up With Updates/ Change Impact

Recently a family member of mine working in the NHS told me with disappointment that only 6 months ago they had been updated to Windows 7, and that now they’d gotten used to using it they would be moving to Windows 10 in the near future.

But the real problem there is why did it take so long for them to go to Windows 7 in the first place? This isn’t an unusual situation for the NHS to find themselves in. It’s quite common for them to be far behind in updates and the latest technology. And that tends to be down to the fact that upgrading such a critical system is a huge risk. What if something unexpected happened? What if the new update or new technology puts a bigger strain on the system and the system shuts down? It’s a big responsibility to be the one in charge of pushing through updates and ensuring the ongoing working of their systems.

This a common worry and the biggest reason as to why the healthcare industry in the UK has fallen far behind in technology than say the finance industry. Which is shocking when you think about it; doesn’t the institution responsible for saving lives deserve the best and newest technology? (Sorry banks, but saving lives trumps lining pockets).

So I have a lot of sympathy for my slightly anxious healthcare buddies. But soon there won’t be a choice. Updates are coming quicker and are ever more resource intensive. Windows 10 is a great example of that. And let’s not even mention the words Meltdown and Spectre.

If you feel the same way, and whether working in healthcare or not, you’re not alone in feeling the fear. But there are ways to safeguard your updates and find out the performance hit before you roll it out to a hospital full of stress doctors and nurses. There will be more on this later.

100% Availability and 100% Performance

Bill with the broken leg has just been admitted into ER. The nurse needs to know whether he’s allergic to anesthesia before administering it. So she hops onto the hospitals EPR system. It’s a busy day at the hospital so the application is loading. Hang on a second Bill. Yeah, still loading… Finally, the nurse manages to access the records, but poor Bill’s been in agony for a good 5 minutes. I feel stressed just writing that, so you can imagine how stressed the end users will become in a situation like this.

This is why end users in hospitals and other health care institutions are notoriously fussy when judging how their OS is working. It’s understandable. Anything less than 100% available and 100% performance could well be the beginning of a much bigger problem. And a hospital just doesn’t function without its EPR. Slow performance is already bad enough, but full on downtime is a crisis.

Like already mentioned, part of what makes updates and migrations scary is the fact that a hospitals system needs to be 100% available for those who use it. It’s been shown time and time again that even what is deemed to be a simple update, such as an anti-virus update can cause a significant impact on the performance of the desktop, not to mention actually causing downtime if it uses too many resources.

But the causes of application downtime and a shoddy performance doesn’t always come down to changing something in the system. I hear far too often that users are complaining about performance when nothing’s changed at all! So it really seems that these IT professionals’ biggest challenge is availability and performance.

So how can IT professionals possibly win that battle?

It’s all about a change of perspective. You’re fighting a losing battle if you’re trying to fix every problem that’s going to arise, because they’ll just keep coming. And you can hardly call it 100% availability and 100% performance if you’re waiting for the problem to show itself. But what if we look to prevent the problems altogether? What if we could know when an issue is upcoming and fix it before anybody is affected? This is when you can call yourself a true champion of a perfect EUX.

GDPR and Data Protection

It’s no secret that the new GDPR laws are causing a stir. Many large business organizations are loudly complaining that they’re about to lose a huge amount of their client databases. Sales and marketing will never be the same again. And that’s difficult of course. But what isn’t being widely publicized enough is how the GDPR laws will affect the NHS.

GDPR compliancy is set to be costly for the NHS. And it’s not worth thinking how costly it would be should the NHS not comply. So why is it such a huge challenge for the NHS? Well there’s probably no other organization that has so much data, and such personal data, on a single individual. So it’s obvious that the NHS will be facing very strict regulations. For one, there’s going to be designated officers who can access certain private data. And the sharing of data across trusts will be highly controlled. In some cases, these jobs will be outsourced and it’s likely to make certain processes take much longer than they did before. The transferal of notes is one example; going through a 3rd party always takes more time.

But what I see to be a more interesting issue is the fact that the NHS will now be obliged to inform the Information Commissioner’s Office if there has been a breach of data. And there are time constraints on how quickly they must do that. To some degrees it sounds like an obvious way to handle a breach. But in reality we’re talking about small GP practices actually having the skills to detect these breaches. That’s a very specialist area of IT. And these NHS practices just aren’t set up technically for this, so a whole load of new internal processes will need to be created. It is good news for cyber security experts though – they will be hot and in demand.

About the author

Sophie (@syoung17_) has been working as an account manager for Login VSI for the past year. Her main area of focus is the UK market working with healthcare, education, and government institutions helping them to achieve a great end user experience of their virtualized environment. Sophie moved to Amsterdam 4 years ago and still enjoys exploring the cities many restaurants and boutique shops. When at home she can be found listening to country and blues, cooking and gaming online.


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