With coronavirus increasing the demand on NHS services, Justin Day, CEO of Cloud Gateway, discusses why the cloud could be the lifeline for the NHS
The NHS has come a long way since its creation but it now faces a great challenge in keeping up with the digital age. As the British population continues to increase, so too does the demand on the NHS, often leaving healthcare services and IT systems strained and overstretched. To cope with these issues, the Government created the ‘Personalised Health & Care 2020’ policy. The framework outlined the intention to use technology and data to further develop health and social services and thereby improve patient outcomes.
Cloud will be vital to achieving the outcomes set out in the Government initiative and will be a crucial component in digitalising the healthcare system. It’s not a simple three-step process but integrating cloud into the NHS will bring significant benefits and help drive innovation in healthcare services.
Many NHS services are legacy systems which pose a complex challenge for the team digitalising applications as part of the wider digital transformation. NHS Digital was set up to help ensure the transformation would be smooth and efficient whilst still carefully handling the sensitive and delicate data and systems that are key to helping the NHS function on a daily basis. Too many systems sit on one single data centre, and as we saw with the WannaCry cyberattack in 2017, if one system goes down, so do the other connected systems.
Introducing cloud will enable the NHS to diversify resources and applications across different cloud platforms, thereby lessening the risk of a complete system blackout. The WannaCry attack left the NHS with a clean-up bill of £92 million; definitely not something the Government can afford to happen again. The ‘Cloud First’ policy was introduced in 2013 to help prioritise the move to cloud technology in the public sector.
In the last couple of years, both public and private sectors have experienced increased awareness and understanding of how they can introduce and then profit from cloud. Accordingly, there has been a surge in demand for integrating cloud into organisations as they look to capitalise on the benefits and NHS Digital is now a driving force in helping the NHS onboard cloud technology.
Bringing the benefits
Cloud benefits have almost become well-known facts in the last few years as vendors increasingly plug the latest cloud technology and organisations who have adopted cloud praise the changes it has brought.
For the NHS in particular, cloud will be invaluable; not only will it help the shift from legacy to digital systems, but it will also enable the NHS to operate an agile network and in turn deploy further innovative technology more easily and smoothly.
Introducing cloud platforms will allow the NHS to rapidly deploy applications and systems which can then be scaled up or down dependent on need and demand. This flexibility can enable a pay as you go function that will form part of the overall cost reductions that the cloud can bring to the NHS. No longer will money be spent on managing legacy systems only available on-premise; instead cloud can help transform IT management, making it easier to upgrade storage and RAM, scale processing speed, manage equipment and deploy, manage, and update software applications. Migrating applications to the cloud will improve agility, speed and accuracy; this will help the NHS improve in areas such as monitoring of patients’ vital signs in hospital facilities, saving valuable time especially with when a pandemic outbreak is occurring.
Cloud can also aid risk management in the NHS. With such huge amounts of technology being deployed into healthcare systems, it’s critical that the risk management strategy and cyber security are given the investment, time and attention needed in order to mitigate risks and protect the confidential and sensitive data being produced by the boatload every day. With cloud, the NHS can integrate risk data and assessments to create a list of risk indicators that can inform the cyber security strategy.
With such a legacy institution as the NHS, integrating cloud as part of the wider digital transformation strategy is no mean feat. It can’t be done all at once, no matter how much money or time is thrown at it. Transferring legacy systems is a challenge but that is the beauty of the cloud; with the right strategy, the NHS can begin deploying cloud platforms where they are best needed.
Having a hybrid cloud strategy lends itself to the transition state that the NHS currently finds itself in; by having a blend of cloud platforms such as public cloud, private cloud and virtualised on-premise, the NHS can ensure that the cloud is being used to the best of its ability where it is most needed and where it is most relevant. Having a mixture of cloud platforms will ensure that the NHS is able to store applications and systems based on their suitability, thereby allowing the NHS to keep up with the speed of growth at which it is operating at. While there is some innovative technology being placed in the pipeline for the NHS, cloud will be the key lifeline to smoothing the transition for the NHS as it makes the leap to digital.
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