Sussex Partnership’s Approach To Technology

sussex_partnership_nhs_foundation_trust_photo_sussex_partnership_nhs_foundationToday I am going to discuss a recent article on IT news site The Register – all about a fantastic SynApps project going on at an NHS Trust that’s using ECM to go paperless.

What’s remarkable about this project is that, as the reporter found out, the ECM product is the first enterprise-class software the team there have ever tackled – so its success is a very strong indicator that today’s NHS is really starting to make software work for it.

What’s also great about the project is what it shows about a sea-change in IT project thinking in the NHS that is really encouraging. The Trust in question is The Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which set up a special internal IT team last year to help it better work with technology. The 12-strong team there have been working to modernise its infrastructure, as well as helping no less than 5,000 staff in the five South Eastern counties the Trust operates in, provide care for young people and adults in people’s homes, clinics, hospitals, GP surgeries and prisons.

That work has gone well, with a lot of standardisation of laptops to one OS, Windows 7, as well as some data centre consolidation and virtualisation work, too; Sussex’s head of IT solutions Theresa Jones told the Register that she now has a solid foundation for further change as a result. And one of the first fruits of all that work is the new open-source Alfresco One ECM system, which came from us here at SynApps, as we are a big partner of Alfresco in the VNA (Vendor Neutral Archive) healthcare IT space.

What is Sussex trying to do with ECM? Sussex is trying to do what so many other NHS bodies are starting to see as finally possible – turn what is at present a bit of a mixture of paper, structured data, unstructured data and bits of digital into one coherent, paperless clinical content system.

“Our ambition is to use Alfresco to become paperless,” Jones is quoted as confirming. “Our first step is to put in the unstructured patient data that we have in patient record systems. After that, we will look at document scanning to become paperless on the clinical side – and then paperless on the corporate side.”

The ‘Facebook-level-easy’ school of IT delivery

That’s a brilliant aim. What’s also great about this project is that Sussex also wants to do what more and more Trusts we meet want as well: to use that new digital resource to reach out and communicate with partners and other stakeholders beyond its four walls. The article says that Sussex’s “bigger objective” is to be able to share information with relevant health and social bodies. Another fruit of all its labour here is to start digitising the process of employees joining and leaving, currently a mix of paper and online that the organisation wants to rationalise and make more efficient.

The Open Source aspect of the project is very important too – as the fact Alfresco’s code is OSS means the team can change and update functionality as needed or desired, and on a modular basis. This complements other Open Source endeavours at the Trust as it uses Drupal as its CMS and the Moodle VLE (virtual learning environment) as a learning and management administrative backbone.

I’ll end for now with what Jones says about her whole philosophy around technology, which I think is really refreshing and signals some real change in health IT thinking; all technology should always be easy to use, primarily as, “Nobody got trained on Facebook.”

I also agree with her ‘four rules’ about technology – that if it doesn’t provide value for money, be fit for purpose and be secure and work with the Trust’s other systems, she doesn’t want to know!

I think this is a great case study that showcases, of course, SynApps technology – but it also offers some interesting perspective on how to think about health IT.

Read the article here

Tony Backhouse
Head of Healthcare Practice, SynApps