By Tim Hearn, Director, UK Government and Public Services, VMware
It’s an important national institution that makes us proud to be British – yet the NHS is struggling.
The NHS is lacking the funding to do all the things that it wants to do and the public expect it to do. This is compounded by increased expectations for 24/7 service, an aging population, and a new generation of expensive drugs designed from genome research.
One of the ways in which the NHS can improve patient outcomes is by moving services further into the community, creating centres of excellence in specific hospitals, and sharing anonymised data for research purposes within its four walls, as well as externally with the private sector and international research partners.
Technology has a significant role to play in the future of the NHS but it has a couple of major obstacles to overcome. Here I have attempted to summarise two of them, namely the use of public cloud services and the improvement of secure information sharing, along with ideas for potential ways to move forward.
Moving to the Cloud
Building IT suites and datacentres in hospitals is an increasingly costly business and the amount of storage required to retain patient data and images is becoming prohibitive. A hospital that also carries out research has additional demands on requirements for computing power, storage capacity, networking etc.
Moving an internal datacentre off premises can save money but the gains are often marginal as wherever the kit resides it still needs power, space and light and carries supplier maintenance contracts. Moving a datacentre to an Infrastructure as a Service model means that you share all the high cost elements with other customers and there are large gains in economy of scale.
New clinical applications and services can also be created and delivered quicker and more cost effectively. For example, there are now applications which allow patients to monitor heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar levels and sleep patterns themselves. This data can be fed directly back to online healthcare systems, allowing remote monitoring of the patient and a more up-to-the-minute overview of a patient’s medical information. As the pressure increases on NHS A&E departments, both in terms of cost and space, these technologies will play a significant role in reducing the number of patient’s relying on emergency healthcare, as professionals are able to better anticipate issues and support patients living with chronic diseases on a more regular, remote basis.
Secure Access and Sharing
At the heart of these new technologies is the cloud. Unfortunately, the healthcare industry has traditionally shied away from putting patient and research data in the cloud due to a perception that it isn’t as secure as more traditional onsite datacentres. Medical information is hugely personal and as such healthcare providers have an important moral and legal requirement to demonstrate that they are storing and using it securely. Recently, the government has pulled back from even sharing anonymised data on chronic illnesses due to perceived fears about data loss, and data hacking. Although there are very valid concerns that must be addressed, the maturity of public cloud services and the NHS’s understanding of how these services work and protect data means that the practical and real security concerns can be addressed. There is now an emergence of NHS and research institutions using public cloud services to securely share data, and to provide a new generation of cloud based clinical applications.
VMware vCloud Air, a secure public cloud service based in the UK, has recently been added to the list of suppliers accredited to connect directly to the N3 network to provide cloud based clinical services and IaaS. The network has 1.3 million NHS users from GP practices to large hospitals, and connects multiple sites across the NHS within England and Scotland. There are currently twelve major data centres connected directly to the network, providing national and local services and applications and only NHS organisations and approved third parties can access it.
Previously certified by CESG for use by the government through their G-Cloud catalogue and framework, vCloud Air has now also met the NHS’s compliance standards for use in clinical environments.
What does this mean? It means that healthcare providers in the UK now have access to a public cloud platform that they can control themselves and access as and when they need to, whilst knowing it is secure enough to hold sensitive patient and research data. Built on VMware’s highly secure NSX technology, it is an agile and cost-efficient platform that provides zero-trust security. Data sovereignty is a real concern for all businesses at the moment as we enter a period of heightened uncertainty around data regulations, both in terms of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and what this may mean following the decision for Britain to leave the European Union. Being able to prove, as we can, data sovereignty at a country level provides peace of mind that patient data is under specific legal and privacy jurisdiction.
This secure, NHS accredited, UK based Infrastructure as a Service capability from VMware provides a cost effective, secure and agile capability to serve the needs of the NHS though these challenging times.
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