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Uniquely Complex Technology Challenges

One of a Kind

The UK healthcare sector is admired the world over. Held up as a shining example of how outstanding healthcare can be provided “free at the point of use” to all citizens regardless of age, ethnicity or financial means, the NHS is unique among global healthcare providers.

It is also uniquely complex and presents complex challenges to all who work within, for it and alongside it. These challenges are manifest across all clinical, management, functional, operational and support areas of the enormous healthcare organisation that is today’s NHS.

Unique and Complex Challenges

For any IT manager the challenges of prioritising budgetary expenditure, maintaining increasingly complex systems with existing teams and planning future IT resourcing, deployment and management strategy are a standard part of the job. In the UK healthcare sector these management challenges are magnified by additional factors which bring with them further layers of complexity.

An organisation that is as large and multi-layered as the NHS — and whose role at a national level is so often subject to scrutiny — faces challenges that are unique, and which therefore demand highly individualised and specific solutions.

With the correct implementation of technology and the smart selection of IT partners and suppliers, NHS organisations can square up to these challenges, secure their computer systems, benefit from efficient networking and communications and deploy future proof clinical and operational support infrastructure systems — within budget. Let’s take a look at the challenges. 

Number of trust that work with Chess in the UK.
Hospital appointments cancelled in the UK after the Wannacry Ransomware attack.
Ransomware continues to be healthcare's number one IT threat.

#1 Budget

As a publicly funded service, faced with a growing and aging customer base, new technologies and more expensive clinical drugs becoming available, the NHS required in excess of £140 billion in 2017, an amount that has doubled in just 20 years

The need to address these evolving healthcare requirements is a challenge matched only by the requirement to keep up the with the growing logistical, functional and operational needs of such a vast enterprise. Budget availability is always a major challenge. Rising demand, new drugs and treatments and other increasing costs mean that difficult choices must be made every day.

The budgetary challenge is exacerbated by the ever-present funding shortfall, expected to reach £25-30 billion by 2020, which means the need for cost cutting and savings is a constant theme. Inevitably, the cost-saving spotlight falls on operational expenditure, including IT systems. In the face of this, how can NHS IT Managers ensure that IT planning, operations and support needs of their organisations are met, at a time when costs and demand are rising, dependence on IT systems is increasing and the risk of network-based threats is growing

#2 Resources

Staff in the NHS are its number 1 most important resource, and they need to be provided with efficient IT systems for their everyday administrative work, critical care, life support and communication. What’s important is that operational continuity to support the delivery of clinical care must be maintained. The IT systems which underpin care delivery are vital and must be prioritised alongside the staff who administer the care and the drugs and treatments required in this.

Yet where budget is scarce, resources of all types must be subject to careful management. Priorities must be set and choices must be made, sometimes between what appear to be equally vital and deserving requirements. Such resource decisions are never easy.

Resourcing decisions based on prioritisation between (for example) more front-line clinical staff, medical treatments and new IT network defences and cybersecurity technologies are never easy or straightforward. How can NHS IT managers ensure that they have the right specialist operational IT staff in place, in the face of often conflicting resource requirements for clinical front- line staff?

#3 Time

Lack of time is a major challenge for NHS organisations. Not enough staff to administer more complex care to growing numbers of patients; increasing volumes of critical conditions, insufficient bed numbers, growing waiting lists, A & E targets to hit.

Multiple and conflicting demands means staff having to handle multiple tasks simultaneously. It also requires managers to allocate staff resources to address operational and clinical priorities according to quickly changing strategies and plans – as well as to certain fast developing and unforeseen situations such as the outbreak of computer viruses.

For IT staff, this means that time may be spent firefighting and responding, instead of proactively monitoring and supporting. It’s simply not possible without a huge team of internal experts to be completely self-sufficient and proficient in every area of clinical and IT support technology.

With time being one of the NHS’s most precious resources, it’s vital that IT expertise is focused in the right places and that technical services that can be delivered more effectively by external experts than internally employed ones are outsourced to specialists. How can IT managers best prioritise their time and that of their teams?

#4 Knowledge

The constant requirement for new knowledge and training in the NHS to keep up with evolving medical and operational requirements is challenging to keep on top of. Expertise must be focused in the areas where it is most needed, whether geographical or subject matter-based, in either operational or clinical delivery areas. Balancing local requirements for ‘on-the-ground’ knowledge and expertise is particularly difficult, especially when it comes to IT functions, which typically benefit from economies of scale.

Many networked technologies and process can be remotely and centrally managed, so while there’s an obvious need for access to physical technology infrastructure at the local level (such as computer systems, networking, telephony and security) much of the database and information systems infrastructure can be housed remotely and in the Cloud. The human teams with the knowledge and expertise to operate and manage this infrastructure may also be required to maintain medical equipment and devices – with the implication that once again, time and budget will be at a premium.

How can IT managers decide which kinds of specialist IT expertise should be more effectively sourced from outside the NHS as opposed to being employed within it? How can they best stay abreast of developments in the rapidly evolving technology landscape? And how can they overcome geographic discrepancies in local IT operations requirements and availability of local skills?​

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Working with the Right Breed of Technology Partner

It’s clear that IT managers in the UK healthcare sector face considerable pressures — particularly when compared to their colleagues in the private sector — in overcoming current and future technology challenges.

Issues such as prioritising scarce budget, focusing expertise on the key areas, selecting best of breed technologies and sourcing the right suppliers with the same values all come into sharper relief when looked at in the context of the challenges outlined above.

Each must be addressed head on as they are fundamental to success and service continuity.

The rapid pace of IT change means that – as well as handling all these issues – staying informed and gaining the knowledge to make the right decisions presents further and additional burdens.

The response must be to team up with a technology partner that is prepared to work with, alongside and hand in hand with NHS IT teams, and who understands and can communicate about the technology challenges in order to address them together.

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What is the Right Breed?

Let’s look at what the key factors might be in this ‘right breed’ of technology partner for many overstretched and under-resourced health sector IT teams.

Clearly Focused Expertise

An IT partner that has a clear healthcare sector focus can be expected to have a deep understanding of the dynamics of the sector. With focus comes knowledge, experience, understanding. It also brings an ability to make appropriate recommendations and provide customised IT solutions that are specifically designed to address real needs.

Similar Values

Where values are shared, goals and objectives may also be the same. An IT partner with similar values will be prepared to work “with” and not just “for” its IT customers for the longer term. That partner will be happy to move at the same pace and willing to work on the same challenges to deliver a best-fit solution at an acceptable cost.

Understands All Challenges

Where the challenges are multi-layered and multi-dimensional, the dynamics are not going to be simple. It’s not good enough for an IT partner to be able to address just one challenge with its healthcare customer. It needs to understand the challenges of budget, resourcing, time and expertise “in the round” in order to tailor a solution that addresses all requirements.

Treats Every Challenge as Specific

At the same time as understanding the full picture, an ideal IT partner must address every individual challenge uniquely. A detailed approach to addressing and overcoming each individual challenge, in a way which recognises how it impacts uniquely and specifically on IT is the only way to deliver a solid, long term foundation for current and future needs.

Doesn’t Over-Complicate

Health sector IT teams are time-poor. The ideal IT ideal partner will therefore deliver solution proposals that are specific to requirement, which are not more complex than needed and for which costs are, above all both on budget and transparent. An ideal IT partner will be easy to work with and will gear proposed solutions to the commercial realities of IT in the NHS.

Is Tuned into The Budget and Resource Issues

An ideal IT partner is one that can marshal multiple technologies from leading vendors, bringing them together to provide a combined solution that dovetails with known constraints. This type of capability requires trust and expertise across multiple technology vendors and suppliers, who share similar values and goals and who can come to the table to agree and deploy the most appropriate technology solutions.

Provides Support at a National Level

Recognising that control of healthcare is devolved across the UK, the need is for a partner that can provide support at all levels within different management structures across geographic locations. Appreciating detailed regional sensitivities and structures requires an IT partner with considerable scale, experience and ability to adapt.

Pragmatic and Hands On

IT managers often need an extra pair of eyes; a partner that can ‘look out’ for and address issues well in advance. With this they also regularly need an extra pair of hands to assist in planning and implementing solutions strategically for the future, because the challenges such as lack of budget and time mean that firefighting day-to-day issues occupies a disproportionate amount of time.

Can Demonstrate a Strong Track Record

An IT partner with a history of successful experience working with healthcare organisations will be able to provide case studies and testimonials. Only with years of working in the thick of the UK healthcare can an IT partner truly claim to understand the issues, challenges and dynamics of the sector – and have the solutions to address them.

How Chess Supports the Healthcare Industry

Chess has been delivering expert IT security solutions to NHS healthcare trusts for over 25 years. Currently we work with 50% of all NHS trusts in the UK, as well as with CSUs and CCGs such as Chelsea and Westminster, totalling nearly 150 customers. Of these, 80 have been working with Chess for 10 years or more.

In Scotland, Chess provides managed services to more than half of all NHS Boards including Edin & St. Andrews and is also developing specialist systems to interpret and translate rich data sets between systems.

With an outstanding pedigree in cybersecurity, Chess partners leading vendors such as Sophos, Forcepoint, ForeScout, Egress and Thycotic to protect its customers against today’s – and tomorrow’s – latest threats. When the Wannacry Ransomware attack led to 20,000 cancelled hospital appointments and infringed patient-doctor confidentiality, Chess was able to help its NHS customers to review and reconfigure their security protection across all their networks.

Ransomware continues to be the number one IT threat, and together with its partners, Chess is at the forefront of anti-ransomware technology development and deployment that will protect its healthcare sectore customers.

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