Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust sets up ‘virtual clinic’ in record time to safeguard staff and patients throughout the pandemic and beyond

By Ibrar Hashmi, digital technology project manager at Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust

At the outbreak of the pandemic, like many businesses and organisations, we immediately understood the importance of getting as many staff as possible working safely from home to reduce footfall on site, minimise the impact of the virus, and help save lives.

Responsible for providing local general hospital and community services to around 260,000 people in Walsall and the surrounding areas, Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust has a total of 4,400 staff across its various sites and facilities, including Walsall Manor Hospital, the 60 health centres and GP surgeries, and palliative care. With a large staff team to protect and careful transition required, home working began in phases, with the most vulnerable being sent home first, followed by other staff on a rota basis.

However, strict security measures meant that staff could not use any of their own devices to carry out NHS work as they do not have the relevant software or VDI licensing. Security and patient confidentiality is paramount, and we could not risk any breaches. Therefore, we urgently needed to procure specialist software, laptops and coding stations to get staff set up properly to work from home.

We also quickly realised that, to help staff continue to communicate safely and effectively, we needed to enhance and increase our AV capability. Prior to the pandemic, staff were cramming into one room to attend important staff briefings, which would no longer be possible with social distancing guidelines in place.

However, laptops and AV equipment were in short supply at the same time demand soared. And while we were trying to procure this equipment, other businesses and organisations around the world were also desperately seeking similar kit. With the support of partner and leading UK ICT solutions provider, Stone Group, we were able to procure 500 laptops and get 80% of our staff working from home in just over two and a half weeks. The laptops were sent to a central location at the trust where they were set up with the relevant emails and log in details so they were all set up and ready to use for when staff called in to collect their individual kit.

Stone Group also liaised with our ICT team and project managers to design a simple, yet effective AV solution, consisting of Iiyama screens, Yealink UC collaboration bars (VC-210), and Microsoft Teams, to allow trust personnel to conduct remote meetings across disparate locations. The solution proved so successful that, following our initial order of 10, another 20 were rolled out and we’re looking to purchase more in the near future, making the trust a record breaker for the first large-scale deployment of the Yealink collaboration bars and Microsoft Teams solution. Additionally, the large format displays and high-quality speakers across our meeting rooms will enable staff to practice social distancing when physical meetings resume.

If there’s been a silver lining to this crisis, it’s the benefits and cost savings that our NHS ‘virtual clinic’ has brought both to staff and patients. Medical staff no longer have to waste time travelling from one trust site to another to meet patients, enabling them to have a better work-life balance and freeing up time to see more patients. This also removes the need for patients to travel to clinics and wait around for their appointment time – instead they can speak to their medical team from home on their smartphone or PC. The virtual clinic has removed the time constraints on appointment times caused by waiting for certain rooms and facilities to become available, and staff now have the flexibility to work from any trust location.

Prior to the pandemic we had a creaking IT infrastructure, but the need to enable remote working quickly and effectively has accelerated our digital transformation so our infrastructure is now on a par with the healthcare we provide. While we were thrown in the deep end with remote working, our new IT infrastructure and AV solution has made an enormous difference to the way we communicate.

Thanks to Stone’s fast response, hard work, and tenacity in security the equipment we needed, we were able to get our staff working from home quickly and effectively, which we genuinely believe has saved lives. We’re now in a very strong position to protect staff and patients, whatever happens in the future.


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