Patients and health care workers in Bradford are enjoying the benefits of a high speed network, which has transformed working conditions and potentially saved lives.
Bradford hospitals are breaking away from NHS technology
Fast and reliable networks are becoming a crucial issue in the National Health Service as doctors increasingly rely on technology for communicating about patients.
In Bradford all 130 healthcare sites are linked to a 2MB broadband connection, which gives doctors and nurses access to e-mail, electronic patient records, diagnostic images and online prescriptions 24 hours a day.
The virtual private network has been set up by Tony Megaw, head of Primary Care Informatics and his team in Bradford.
The new system means healthcare across all of Bradford's hospitals, primary health care trusts and GP surgeries is co-ordinated and on the same computer network.
This is in stark contrast to much of the NHS.
"The history of computing in the NHS is that there are hundreds of disparate systems and so patient information ends up trapped in the environment of the GP surgery," explained Mr Megaw.
Mr Megaw wanted to opt out of the NHS centrally controlled information technology system, which relied on ISDN technology from BT.
"We realised it was not good enough for what we wanted. It took a lot of negotiation to bow out of the NHS procurement process," he said.
Supporting broadband strategy
Instead Bradford set up a new alliance with cable firm Telewest which has benefited not just the health services in the area but all the local population.
In order to set up the system that Bradford, required Telewest had to make a £1m investment in infrastructure.
"As a result of the contract we are supporting the government's strategy for the extension of broadband. It has benefited the community as a whole, allowing them to tap into the technology," said Mr Megaw.
And the fact that doctors can access patient's records outside of the surgery could have saved lives.
Recently a patient was admitted to a Bradford hospital in a coma. Access to her medical records showed that she was allergic to penicillin which would otherwise have been given to her.
In another instance, a woman who spoke no English was admitted to hospital with a suspected drug overdose.
By gathering her medical history on the network, health care workers were able to make a good guess at which drug she had taken.
For doctors and nurses, the system has made a huge difference.
"Before I was getting at least one e-mail a week from users complaining about the network performance. If that was happening in Bradford, it must also have been happening everywhere else in the NHS," said Mr Megaw.
This is because the NHS relies on people dialling in to a central network and so the more people that are using it the more clogged the system becomes.
"Where the NHS is going fundamentally wrong is that everyone has physical link into the core network and local solutions are what is needed," said Mr Megaw.
In Bradford the system is configured so that certain traffic is given priority and the network is able to cope with hundreds of users eating up bandwidth at the same time.
"It has made a phenomenal difference," Mr Megaw told an audience gathered at the Internet World conference in London.
The Department of Health has been allocated around £1bn to install a broadband network across all the NHS over the next 10 years.