We’re experiencing an emergency across the UK and the world, touching and affecting the lives of everyone. Healthcare professionals across the country are working at an unprecedented pace to deliver support and care, saving lives every single day.

The COVID-19 emergency has brought front and centre a lack of provision in supporting these health and care professionals. We’ve seen across the news in recent weeks the conversation around the need for greater quantities of personal protective equipment (PPE), and above all, a simpler way of requesting and receiving the supplies staff urgently need to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of citizens.

North East London is striving to keep all medical and care staff as safe as possible as we respond to unprecedented levels of demand in a crisis. But facing limitations of both supply and visibility of supply, how can we ensure that hospital trusts, GPs and other community providers can easily report and request the materials they urgently need and importantly, be freed up to focus on what really matters: caring for people.

Obsolete processes

The previous process for coordinating PPE stock levels was for hospital sites to fill out a spreadsheet every day by 10 am and email that spreadsheet to the North East London team. Our team then consolidates that information into a further spreadsheet to send to the London PPE coordinating team who have to consolidate many similar spreadsheets. It’s like the ‘Russian doll’ of spreadsheets, adding to that, it’s both times consuming and prone to data input errors. It’s not a good process at the best of times, let alone during an emergency. Imagine working in a hospital right now and needing to manually count and notate all equipment, then feeding that into a spreadsheet every morning.

In a time when we urgently need the support of every healthcare professional, and we urgently need to have sight of our personal protective equipment, we knew we could make this a lot more effective for everyone.

Building a digital tool

Working collaboratively with FutureGov, we brought together a team of people remotely to design a digital tool that could help us identify supply levels and better enable decisions around the provision of emergency PPE supplies, while also reducing time spent on reporting. Working at an incredible pace in an open and transparent way, we used virtual tools and proxy user research to learn about the needs of staff across our network, build solutions and iterate quickly.

We’ve innovated quickly in a time of crisis, developing and implementing two PPE management tools. In under two weeks, we launched one for hospital trusts and in the subsequent weeks another for primary and community sites. Each tool allows staff to use a smartphone or tablet to review and record stock levels in real-time with clear instructions. Staff in North East London can then review a prioritised list of stock levels and needs across the network from a central dashboard. This simple platform is already supporting staff by removing barriers and providing accurate information to inform conversations and decisions.

Together, we’ve co-created a digital tool that is fit for purpose, easy to use and easy to scale, with the ambition to make it open-sourced code for low-cost replicability at a regional and national level.

But ultimately, what we’ve done is to identify urgent needs across our system and built a solution that makes the lives of staff and patients easier and outcomes better. We’ve given staff the information they need to make quick and difficult decisions and free up their time from administrative work to get back to focusing on the patients who urgently need their care and attention.

Our next challenge will be engaging more users across the community and primary care providers, making sure this tool is fit for their needs.

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We’re always happy to answer any questions you have about FutureGov and discuss how we can work together.

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