The UK's National Health Service (NHS) has shared out £1 million between seven regional trusts that want to put some new wireless tech through its paces.

Nick Wood

February 14, 2024

4 Min Read

The ongoing Wireless Trials programme, coordinated by NHS England, seeks to implement cutting-edge technology to provide better care and free up more time for staff to spend with patients.

Healthcare is routinely cited by telcos as one of the biggest potential beneficiaries of high-speed connectivity, and various futuristic use cases are frequently posited, so it's good to see that some of these are actually going to be tried out in the real world.

Successful applicants in this funding round include the North West and East of England ambulance services, which plan to deploy improved wireless connectivity in A&E and ambulance areas, speeding up the transfer of essential patient care data from ambulances to hospitals.

Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust will use the money it has been awarded to introduce a new app that allows staff to take observations on tablets and smartphones by a patient's bedside. The aim is to reduce the time spent typing up patient notes, time that can be better spent providing treatment.

Similarly, the Countess of Chester NHS Foundation Trust plans to wirelessly link diagnostic devices with its electronic patient records system, speeding up assessment times.

Another two successful applicants, Mid Cheshire and Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS trusts, will use the cash to install wireless trackers on medical equipment and hospital beds. This will enable real-time monitoring and location tracking so that staff can easily find what they need, when they need it.

Meanwhile, Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust has an ambitious plan to combine satellite and cloud-based wireless solutions to improve connectivity across its 10 hospital sites and wider community services.

"As one of the country's largest NHS trusts, it's essential that we can provide continuous patient care with minimum disruptions," said Dan Prescott, group CIO of Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust. "With the Wireless Trial we're aiming to create a reliable, fast and secure network access solution to address unexpected connectivity issues, even in areas of poor-connectivity."

The overarching aim of these trials is to help the NHS meet the objectives laid out in its Long Term Plan. Published in 2019, it has a chapter dedicated to digitally-enabled care.

"I have been impressed with the innovative ideas coming from the system and we are delighted to be able to award this funding to the successful trialists to develop new or improved wireless solutions for the NHS," said NHS England's executive director of platforms, Stephen Koch, about this new round of trials.

"We'll be monitoring the outcomes of the trials and are very hopeful that a number of these will be able to be scaled more broadly across the health and social care system saving clinical time, improving patient care and saving money for the system," he said.

NHS England hasn't shared details about which technology partners the various trusts are working with, but plans are afoot that should see more information offered up later this year.

This is how it's been done before. Two previous trials, about which NHS England is particularly talkative, are University College London Hospital's 'Find and Treat' – a mobile health screening service that targets vulnerable groups, including homeless people – and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust becoming the first 5G-connected hospital in the UK.

Virgin Media O2 (VMO2) and Nokia were the connectivity providers for the latter, and there are a couple of other big names in UK telecoms that have been particularly active on the healthcare front lately that could quite easily be involved with this new round of wireless trials.

BT last April showed off a 'virtual wards' project, offering patients remote access to healthcare apps, at-home health monitoring devices, and online consultations. In November it also revealed an early version of an AI messaging bot that can arrange and manage appointments.

Vodafone last May stepped up its health-related activities, launching a dedicated healthcare division. Called 'Vodafone in Health', its aim is to partner with the NHS and other healthcare providers to accelerate the digital transformation of the sector.

It wouldn't be a surprise to discover either of these two are working with one or more of the seven awarded trusts.

In the meantime, NHS England is gearing up to allocate yet more funding, with applications for the next series of wireless trials due to open later this year.

About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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