The field of healthcare is just like every other industry… it’s slowly but surely being transformed by digital technology. In the big data age, NHS trusts are increasingly reliant on digitised solutions for virtually everything they do. From managing patient data securely to facilitating diagnostics to operating theatre management to assisting HR services, the NHS has diverse IT and data management needs. But recent cyber attacks like the Wannacry incident in 2017 (which cost the NHS around £92 million) have exposed vulnerabilities from which some trusts have still yet to fully recover.
In an era where IT needs are ever-changing, yet many trusts struggle with severe funding deficiencies, managed IT services could be a viable and effective solution to drive efficiency without creating funding deficits.
What are managed IT services?
In many ways, NHS trusts are like any other business. They need to ensure that their IT provision is fit for purpose today while also scalable to their projected needs tomorrow. They also need to ensure that they’re getting peak value and a robust return on their investment… and that can be tricky when you factor in the costs of installing and maintaining networks of computers, servers, data storage and all the myriad components that make up their IT infrastructure.
Many businesses choose to outsource their infrastructure to managed IT services who design, implement and manage systems on their behalf in line with their goals. This usually proves more cost effective than building their own infrastructure from scratch.
What’s more, managed IT services are especially advantageous for NHS trusts when factoring in their infrastructural needs and historical deficiencies.
The limits of legacy: The problem with NHS systems
The IT landscapes of many NHS trusts are characterised by a proliferation of legacy systems. Systems which have been implemented, adjusted and added to over a period of years. As these legacy systems grow to keep up with the trust’s’ needs, they grow more complicated and convoluted. Rather than start from scratch, trusts build upon systems which were put in place at a time when data management needs were far less rigorous.
As legacy systems are mish-mashed together and staff are forced to rely on multiple data silos (even within the same hospital), this can create potentially troublesome vulnerabilities which cyber criminals have proven all too eager to capitalise upon. At the very least they can create operational inefficiencies which can bottleneck the quality of service that trusts provide their patients.
Indeed, as we discussed in a previous post about why healthcare IT professionals can no longer ignore data availability, the Blue Keep vulnerability that was a potential cause of the Wannacry attack still affects some legacy versions of Windows used by NHS trusts right now.
Managed IT services can create comprehensive end-to-end services which are not subject to the same potential vulnerabilities and limitations as legacy systems. They are tailored to the needs and priorities of each trust to ensure that infrastructures are secure and fit for purpose.
The IT infrastructure needs of NHS trusts
In order to provide a comprehensive, secure and capable IT infrastructure, managed IT service providers need a comprehensive understanding of trusts’ needs. After all, an NHS trust isn’t like any other organisation. If something goes wrong with a small business’ IT a customer might get inconvenienced, but IT mishaps and data loss within the NHS can literally be a matter of life or death.
As such, service providers understand that NHS managed services require:
Most businesses have the luxury of being able to close… but the needs of trusts are consistent 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Data availability at any given time is absolutely vital. NHS trusts face instances where seconds count on a daily basis. A loss or delay in data availability could, without hyperbole, put lives in danger. As such, data needs to be protected from all conceivable threats from power outages and natural disasters to accidental mishandling, sabotage and cyber crime. Which brings us to…
Malware is an ever-present threat against which trusts should be constantly vigilant. Because cyber criminals are always coming up with new ways to breach IT systems, service providers must respond in kind. Security provision must be ever-evolving in order to counter the multifaceted threats posed to trusts’ IT infrastructures.
Alignment with nationwide initiatives
Across the nation, NHS trusts are under pressure to increase efficiency and cost-effectiveness in line with the Lord Carter of Coles report. Fortunately, the two need not be mutually exclusive. More and more trusts are coming to realise that outsourcing to managed IT services is ultimately more cost-effective than building and restructuring their own IT infrastructures. And because they have expert support in the design, implementation and management of these systems they are potentially much more operationally efficient, too.
What to look for in an NHS managed IT service provider
There are lots of IT managed services providers out there, and not all will have the capability or experience to design and implement systems that can help trusts to consistently achieve their nationally mandated targets. When choosing an NHS managed IT service provider you should consider…
Part of the problem with legacy systems is that they were not designed with scalability in mind. As such, when new iterations are made over the years, systems can become more and more vulnerable. However, a good managed IT service provider will build scalability into the fabric of your infrastructure. Your provision will be able to keep up with your changing and growing needs without downtime or teething problems.
This is especially important in ensuring that trusts are able to take advantage of new advances in healthcare technology without creating security vulnerabilities or service outages.
In a climate where every penny of funding is hard-won, it goes without saying that service providers should find inventive ways to provide greater value for money. One example of this might be virtualisation of machines to help trusts overcome the inherent limitations of their hardware. Virtualisation can also help to ensure future-proofing of systems without the need to over-invest in hardware up front.
Anything that can add speed, efficiency and security to systems is a value proposition worth considering.
Constant availability and support
A managed IT service provider won’t just set up your architecture then leave you to your own devices. They’ll understand the complex support needs of NHS trusts and ensure that you have unlimited access to the support you need, whenever you need it.
When you understand your trusts’ complex needs, the inherent vulnerabilities of your existing legacy systems and what to look for in a managed service provider you can ensure that you get your money’s worth and that provision is always ready to meet your changing needs and requirements.