Despite the need for better technology to improve processes in the NHS, hospital IT departments are having to contend with decreasing budgets. Liverpool Women’s and Alder Hey Children foundation trusts’ chief information officer Dr Zafar Chaudry introduces some new technology methods that could help meet tougher targets.

In the current economic climate, the NHS is facing sustained and escalating pressure to reduce spending, increase efficiency and decrease patient waiting time. IT departments are suffering because of these conditions, and are facing the need to handle larger amounts of increasingly complex data, adhering to strict government information and security guidelines while coping with shrinking budgets.

NHS organisations are beginning to adopt new methods and proactive approaches to facing these challenges head on, by utilising new desktop virtualisation technology. This technology is not only able to notably reduce costs, but also ensure regulatory compliance and see problem complexity decline.

Virtualisation provides medical institutions with the enticing prospect of a reduction in software licensing costs and the volume of calls to the IT help-desk. Additionally, desktop virtualisation can increase staff mobility, as virtualised software and applications can be accessed via the internet at any location with a connection to the virtual server. However, desktop virtualisation does have its limitations and challenges which include high initial set-up costs, unexpected system and desktop upgrades, and a lack of user personalisation.

While virtualisation is a viable option to ease management time and hardware costs, the implementation of an IT automation system is another alternative with similar benefits. In a bid to reduce costs and increase efficiency, IT automation was recently installed and implemented at Liverpool Women’s and Alder Hey Children’s foundation trusts

With a high volume of desktops and laptops to manage on an individual basis, the trust’s IT administrators were spending an excessive amount of their time physically fixing and updating each minor problem and individual piece of equipment, a timely and costly approach.

In a hospital environment, uptime is a key factor in effective patient treatment, and switching to automation and virtualisation wielded impressive return on investment figures for the trust. First time fix rates increased by 200 per cent leading to a reduction in downtime, which ensures that over 4,800 employees can access the essential data required to successfully deliver rapid care for over 3,000 patients per month.

The use of Kaseya-based software has also contributed towards our cost saving targets. The trust has been able to improve its level of service in line with NHS directives, without increasing head count, and now constantly delivers an improved level of service. The IT automation platform also dramatically reduced support cycles from seven days to within 24 hours; many support issues were resolved in less than 10 minutes.

The monetary benefits gained via the introduction of virtualisation are also inspiring; the research highlighted that a reduction in downtime by one minute per person per day, could lead to an annual saving of £160,000. In addition to contributing to NHS financial savings targets, virtualisation not only reduces labour costs, but the use of the technology can help significantly lower energy costs, via the implementation of a simple on/off automation rule on the system.

Desktop management is a very complex issue and presents a host of pit-falls and challenges for public sector IT departments. The implementation of IT automation at the Liverpool Women’s and Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust has demonstrated how IT departments can help reduce costs and contribute to NHS savings targets.

During these times of hard-hitting public sector budget cuts, IT automation offers a low cost, effective and easily implementable system management solution without the need to restructure an entire organisation. From the figures collated, if IT automation was rolled out across the one million desktops in the NHS, we can estimate a possible saving of £40m per year.