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West London NHS Trust Tackled COVID Challenges Using Agile Intranet and Innovation

About West London NHS Trust

West London NHS Trust is one of the largest and most diverse mental health services in the UK. It provides care and treatment to 20,000 people each year and serves a population of around 700,000 residents. It also employs over 3,900 staff across 25 sites.

The West London NHS Trust’s intranet “The Exchange”, built on the Engage platform by Sorce, is at the heart of the entire organisation. Implemented in 2006, it started life as a simple intranet to support internal communications, but has since grown into a vast business critical solution. 

The Challenges

As with the rest of the world, the COVID pandemic struck West London NHS Trust without warning. The Exchange became a lifeline for the Trust, becoming the source of truth for the entire organisation and crucial for its frontline workforce who work across multiple sites.

Sara Lee, Intranet Manager at West London NHS Trust, says, “As the pandemic started to take hold and Government sought to manage the crisis, we were faced with a number of exceptional challenges, and limited time and resources to find solutions.”

Firstly, all 3,900 employees from across the Trust needed to have instant access to the latest COVID information and guidance. With the guidelines often changing overnight, there needed to be an effective means to keep everyone constantly updated.

The Trust also needed to evaluate the workforce and identify who was most at risk of complications with COVID-19. If employees were classed as high risk, then this needed to be flagged to determine the level of support needed.

At the same time, a solution for COVID absence tracking was required. As staff were becoming ill with COVID, the Trust had to report the impact this was having on staffing, and provide a daily snapshot of absences.

In addition, the Trust needed to quickly figure out how to manage the distribution, testing and reporting of thousands of lateral flow tests as they became available. In line with government guidance, the Trust had to ensure all staff regularly took lateral flow tests, and the results were rapidly captured and reported to Government.

Finally, as vaccinations started to be rolled-out to healthcare staff, a robust process was needed to allow the booking of vaccination appointments, and the subsequent recording and reporting of every employee’s vaccination status. 

The Solutions

With the health of staff and patients a critical consideration, the Trust didn’t have the time or resources to source new technologies to solve its COVID challenges. It also became clear that The Exchange could provide the flexible and robust platform the Trust needed, and together with the intranet team’s expertise and insight, solutions were soon found.

Lee says, “At the beginning of the pandemic, we were able to react quickly. We redesigned certain intranet pages to make it easy for the communications team to update staff with the latest COVID information, and also disseminate the infection control messages and supporting information to staff across the Trust.”

As well as The Exchange becoming the ‘go to’ for all COVID information and updates, the human resources (HR) and the Exchange teams worked together to develop a risk assessment form on the intranet which all managers had to complete. This then automatically provided HR with a list of priority staff for when the vaccines became available, and the level of support these staff needed in the meantime.

To overcome the issue of reporting all COVID-related absences without it impacting employees’ Bradford Score (the absence-oriented key performance indicator used by HR teams), the existing absence reporting system was updated. The new functionality was key to effectively managing the frontline workforce while ensuring staff and patients were not put at risk. It also provided staff with peace of mind that time off due to COVID would not impact their absence rating.

As soon as the Trust knew lateral flow tests would become available for staff, it sought a means to record each lateral flow number and the test result and then provide comprehensive weekly reporting to Government. Again, The Exchange was the ideal platform because it already held all employee information and could be adapted quickly and easily.

A hybrid system was created whereby staff could provide their lateral flow results via a Survey Monkey form. The results were then uploaded to The Exchange where they were collated and analysed, and a weekly SITREP report was sent out to the relevant Government bodies highlighting the percentage of staff who had tested positive.

This system was used between November 2020 and August 2021 (after which time the Government provided a website for NHS staff to upload their test results).

Alison Webster, Deputy Director of Organisational Development from West London NHS Trust, says, “The new solution meant that we could effectively record the number of staff, by service, that had completed lateral flow tests, and this data became essential in the effective management of COVID and our infection control procedures. If a solution hadn’t been established so quickly, we would have struggled to issue lateral flow tests and then track the outcomes.”

A rapid response was also needed for facilitating the COVID vaccination roll-out for all 4,000 substantive staff and bank staff across multiple sites. The Trust needed to find a way to allow staff to book vaccination slots, record every employee’s vaccination status, and provide status reports when required.

The team decided to adapt the training app in The Exchange so that it acted as a vaccine booking tool. This enabled up to 260 vaccination slots to be booked each day. Each vaccination request was automatically sent to line managers for fast authorisation, along with a vaccination consent form for staff to complete prior to their booking.

Once staff had been vaccinated, this was automatically recorded against their employee record and vaccination status reports could be produced as and when required.

Incredibly, developing the new vaccination booking system took a matter of days, facilitating the fastest roll-out of a vaccine in Global history. Being able to provide a solution so quickly was only made possible by the agile nature of the Engage platform, on which The Exchange is built. 

The Results

Thanks to The Exchange, approximately 1300 COVID absences have been recorded without a detrimental impact to employees’ Bradford Scores. If this workaround hadn’t have been found, scores would have been unfairly affected, potentially impacting employee morale.

Plus, 41,000 lateral flow test results were processed and reported to Government bodies, helping Government to have a clearer view of infection rates and the spread of the virus, while better safeguarding staff and patients. Any staff who were identified as testing positive were provided with follow-up support from HR .

The first vaccines were administered to West London staff on 18 January 2021, and since then the Trust has administered a total of 12,813 vaccines, all recorded on The Exchange.

And furthermore, 3900 staff were kept constantly informed and updated during the pandemic, providing them with the very latest Government guidance.

When faced with a pandemic that required frontline NHS staff to keep working while safeguarding their and their patients’ health and wellbeing, innovative thinking was needed together with flexible technologies that could be adapted accordingly. The Exchange provided the ideal platform, and thanks to the hard work and ingenuity of the intranet team, solutions were developed within days.

Lee adds, “A lesson learnt is that the solutions are often already there, you just need to think creatively in ways you may not have even considered before. By using an agile intranet together with a team that understands its capabilities, we made anything possible.”

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