by Mark Chillingworth

UCLH CIO James Thomas on unified communications

Mar 23, 2011
GovernmentIT StrategyMobile

See also: UCLH CIOJames Thomas on supplier management UCLH CIOJames Thomas on negotiating regulatory scrutiny

As he sought election, David Cameron spoke of his parents’ approach to public service and the difference they made. Meeting the ICT Director of University College London Hospital (UCLH) James Thomas­ is to meet a CIO who has dedicated his own unique skillsets to make the NHS in this country better and play a part in the “big society”.

UCLH is a model of how well the NHS works in the trusts that are really making a difference. Its new hospital complex on the corner of Warren Street and Euston Road in London is a beacon of modern healthcare and has an excellent reputation.

UCLH is in an enviable position. It manages its Foundation Trust efficiently, and as a result has a surplus which it is ploughing back into healthcare by ­developing a world-leading specialist cancer hospital.

As with all organisations that are performing well, a lot of its success is down to the management and that includes the innovative use of technology. UCLH is an amalgamation of seven hospitals with a £700m turnover providing ­patient care, research and development and education, which makes it one of the most complex NHS trusts in the country.

“We are heavily linked to the R&D agenda­ as part of the University College London (UCL) and are one of the top ­research hospitals in the world. We also partner with Yale in the US,” Thomas says.

“That means we are constantly changing and improving the way that we care. It is not your standard NHS world.

“It’s very stimulating for consultants and trainees,” he says. UCLH is a national centre for neuroscience, dental and heart healthcare, but also has to provide the ‘standard’ services we all expect of a hospital like A&E and maternity wards.

To cope with these demands UCLH has a history of really working its building stock, Thomas explains.

The new hospital was phase 2 of the latest programme, a new Cancer Wellness centre will open in April 2012 and then the construction of a proton beam therapy centre, one of the first in Europe, will be the fourth phase.

“Eight thousand people work here: 6500 on our payroll, the rest with UCL on an honouree appointment,” he says.

Critical communications As one of London’s most central hospitals UCLH plays a critical role in the capital’s healthcare. To my surprise Thomas explained that the hospital has to react to a major accident every six months.

The hospital was crucial to patients when terrorists bombed a bus nearby in July 2005, but major accidents are far more common than the events of 7/7, and Thomas says a problem like a fire at another hospital can lead to an sudden ­increase in patients at UCLH.

“The Olympics or a protest have the ­potential to be a major accident and we are a category one civil response centre.”

When such incidents take place, they place an incredible strain on the communications infrastructure of a hospital. As 7/7 demonstrated the mobile phone networks can also get overwhelmed, again hampering communications for hospitals.

UCLH countered this threat with a groundbreaking managed services unified­ communications project with Azzurri which is now being copied by other trusts.

In March 2010 Azzurri and UCLH completed phase one of the £10m seven-year managed service transformation of all data, voice and mobile communications infrastructure at UCLH.

Over 18 months the ­entire fixed line infrastructure at UCLH was replaced and a private local mobile phone network was installed so that if a crisis like 7/7 occurred again, UCLH would not lose its mobile communications capabilities.

This is the first private mobile network in the NHS and carries a full BlackBerry-based integration of voice and data.

UCLH and Azzurri began the operation­ by auditing the use of all data, mobile, pager­ and voice infrastructures and contracts. It discovered the existing data network would not survive an upgrade and that there were 11 separate landline systems in operation across the trust.

What exists today is a totally new pico­cell-based mobile network, a bedside IT system used by patients and clinicians that reduces paper and cross-contamination caused by laptops, a smart messaging system for patients and an on-site communications helpdesk service provided by Azzurri.

Thomas says that the project involved all medical directors of UCLH and was implemented using Prince2 and ITIL standards, with continual auditing by the trust’s information governance team, the Azzurri quality department and KPMG.

The project was completed on time and on budget, and as a managed services deal no capital expenditure passed from UCLH. Azzurri also struck an advertising deal for patient-side ­systems to carry some of the costs.

“With Azzurri we have a market-leading proposal and we have broken the mono­poly of [bedside phone provider] ­PatientLine,” Thomas says.