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How an NHS Trust is using tech to prepare for a “worst case scenario”

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In the early months of 2020, when news that the COVID-19 pandemic was to become a serious global threat, the UK Government had to plan healthcare provision against a backdrop of  ‘reasonable worst-case scenario’ for numbers of deaths.

In response to the crisis, many hospitals turned to tech to ensure it had the necessary resources to handle this worst-case scenario.

Health Tech World spoke with Dr Becky Jupp, a clinical director at the University Hospitals Dorset NHS Foundation Trust, about how the organisation utilised tech in response to the pandemic.

Dr Jupp says: “investment in technology over the past few months has been really noticeable. A lot of consultants have mobile devices and a lot of our meetings now happen via Microsoft Teams.

“One of the most exciting things has been the installation of artificial intelligence for reading our CT, angiograms and brain CT scans for stroke.”

“We’re now building a server with RapidAI for Bournemouth Hospital which will serve the areas of Bournemouth and Poole.

“The server is almost up and running which will give us rapid access via our phones to diagnostic imaging.”

With a total population in the University Hospitals Dorset NHS Foundation Trust of around 550,000, the government’s ‘reasonable worst-case scenario’ equated to a potentially overwhelming number of COVID-19 patients that would require care in both the Emergency Department (ED) and the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

To cope with this potential influx of patients, the trust utilised an electronic rostering system for organising and managing new shift patterns and sickness absence.

The trust needed to redeploy almost its entire staff to the COVID-19 wards in order to manage acute patient demand. In the early stages, it became clear that all of its 200 medical staff and 80 consultants would need to be rostered in order to meet the potential demand on the hospitals.

In initial emergency meetings, it was concluded that in order to provide effective care for potentially hundreds of incoming COVID-19 patients, staff were going to have to do long shifts, and consultants would be needed overnight.

The trust used HealthRoster, a tool developed by software company Allocate. The system gave staff visibility of all shifts via a mobile app, rather than traditional paper-based and spreadsheet rostering systems, which are still widely used by NHS trusts.

Jupp says: “Our lives were turned upside down. Our jobs were not the same. We were based on emergency work all the time, and we didn’t have our usual clinics or our usual opportunities for learning and educating others.

“The situation has been a complex one, and our first rota took a year to put together, but we’re now designing rotas for multiple departments in just 48 hours. In all honesty, I don’t know how we would have coped with resourcing during COVID-19 without the Allocate software. With 60 consultants to schedule, Excel simply wouldn’t have cut it.”

It is still unclear how severe the second wave of the pandemic will be and how the NHS will be impacted.

Jupp says: “We don’t really know what’s to come, but obviously, there are some things that are much better now than they were before.

“It doesn’t feel like the same unknown. I’m confident that we will look after our patients really and serve our population really well, though we will undoubtedly have our challenges.

“We’re feeling more competent now, however, we are worried about how we are going to organise all of the patients coming in.”

In the wake of COVID-19, many areas of the healthcare system have been put on hold. Notably, cancer diagnoses. Jupp says the trust is doing all they can to avoid this work being disrupted again.

Jupp says: “The difference this time is we want to keep our elective work going as much as possible. We’re desperately trying to catch up with all of that, while at the same time preparing for a second wave of COVID.”

“We don’t want to disrupt everything as we did before, so we want to keep as much as we can on our normal working timetables.”

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