Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust

HEALTHCARE  |  UNITED KINGDOM  |  4500 USERS

Bringing Everyone Together: the story of Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust

Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust serves a local population of around 270,000 people in Walsall (United Kingdom) and surrounding areas. It operates from some 30 sites ranging from the multi-disciplinary Manor Hospital providing acute healthcare services, through to community-based locations such as Health Centres and GP surgeries.

The Trust’s 4,500-strong workforce is never in one place. Its staff are spread across multiple locations, operating in shifts, and have a wide variety of roles, from surgeons and administrators to those who maintain and service the estate. Some have desks and PCs, but the majority don’t, and the consistently high levels of pressure and demand in the healthcare sector, particularly during the pandemic, combined with the varied work patterns has created significant internal communications challenges.
The arrival of COVID-19 severely tested the Trust’s resilience, as it did much of the NHS itself, and indeed across the globe. Senior leadership at the Trust wanted to understand the state of internal communications, so that they could be assured business-critical information and support was reaching the geographically dispersed workforce. Based on the feedback from a short internal survey, the communications team went to competitive tender and engaged (with its implementation partner Cloud2) to replace the existing intranet with the LiveTiles Enterprise and Reach platform, thus greatly improving workplace communication and upgrading their employees’ experience.
While the deployment is currently underway, The Trust has currently implemented Reach as: an internal, password-protected, mobile-first version and as an external public version, accessible to and connecting all staff, driving convenient two-way interaction, regardless of role, location or device, a tightly integrated solution with Microsoft SharePoint, Office 365 and Teams, an open communications platform providing news and info to the wider community.
Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust frontline workers

A Heritage of Service and Engagement

Few institutions in a community have a higher profile and more connections than a hospital. Everyone has either been there, has a family member cared for there, or knows someone who works there. Since 1928, but with a heritage going back to 1896, Walsall’s Manor Hospital has served its community of 270,000 residents. Amongst the hospital’s 4,500 clinical and non-clinical employees, pride of their place in the community is high.

The small communications team at the Trust found a way to engage productively and interactively with both groups through harnessing market-leading technology and deploying LiveTiles Reach.

COVID dispersed some staff, added pressure to others

The COVID-19 pandemic created unfathomable pressures on the National Health Service, and on local Trusts such as Walsall Healthcare. Not only did the hospital experience an influx of very ill patients, but the day-to-day business of the institution was dispersed with little notice as non-clinical staff were required to work from their homes. However, many roles such as shift workers and support staff were needed to keep services and facilities operational and resilient.

Executives were concerned news wasn’t getting through

An employee survey was undertaken which confirmed the Executive Team’s concerns. A third of respondents said they didn’t have a good understanding about what was happening within the Trust day-to-day. The main communications tool was an email newsletter known as the ‘Daily Dose’, which was static, hard to analyse and mainly read by desk-based staff. Only a third of staff read the email daily, with a quarter of estates and facilities not reading it at all. The appetite for a dynamic, modern mobile app was certainly there – 90% of respondents supported it.

Sally Evans, Director of Communications and Stakeholder Engagement was concerned about how communications were getting through, if at all, to hard-pressed employees and acknowledged the need to harness technology to deliver a solution.

“It was of paramount importance to our organisation that we found a way to reach those traditionally ‘seldom-seen’ staff groups who didn’t always have the time or computer access to receive important information. Most staff do have smartphones however and the Reach app allows instant and convenient two-way interaction. It also provides us with the assurance that this can be achieved in a secure and compliant way, integrating with our existing Office 365 infrastructure.”

The COVID-19 pandemic created unfathomable pressures on the National Health Service, and on local Trusts such as Walsall Healthcare. Not only did the hospital experience an influx of very ill patients, but the day-to-day business of the institution was dispersed with little notice as non-clinical staff were required to work from their homes. However, many roles such as shift workers and support staff were needed to keep services and facilities operational and resilient.

Deploying a new Intranet

Digital Communications Manager Steven Bagley was tasked with creating and developing a modern, responsive, and dynamic intranet that would be accessible anywhere, would be compelling to use, and was mobile-first.  Working with implementation partner Cloud2 and an internal IT colleague, Steven received interest from several vendors, but ultimately selected LiveTiles. A basic requirement was that Walsall Healthcare didn’t want a stand-alone intranet, but a solution that was tightly integrated with Microsoft SharePoint, Office 365 and Teams, all core technology for the Trust. The Trust also wanted a partner which already had a close relationship with Microsoft and would track developments such as its evolution to Modern SharePoint.

Despite pandemic, deployment continued

An NHS Trust identifying, procuring and deploying a new technology solution in the middle of a pandemic was quite an achievement for the Trust’s Communications Team – with the project led by Steven supported by a small, core team of communication and IT specialists.  “It was crucial to have executive support and adoption,” Steven says. “Our sense that the existing ‘Daily Dose’ format wasn’t getting through to frontline staff was borne out by the survey, but in a cost-constrained environment such as an NHS Trust, major projects like this one will not happen without executive buy-in.”

‘Reach’ made public: Not just an internal solution

While the principal goal was to implement an interactive, compelling and responsive communications channel for internal staff, a number of additional benefits have emerged, principally the development of LiveTiles Reach for an external audience.

It was a by-product of the requirement to have the Reach solution easily available to staff via the Apple and Google Play app stores. The rule for these stores was that applications were required to have some element that was of value to the public, and so a Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust branded, non-password protected user experience was developed.

From being almost an afterthought, the Trust is now considering the public version as an ideal way to get information out to its local population in addition to its website and social media platforms.

In addition to interactive news content, Walsall Healthcare’s Reach deployment offers additional benefits to users such as the ability for both mobile ‘push’ notifications and Microsoft Teams alerts, an events function, an integrated staff directory and service-specific information. An idea currently in development is to use Reach as a component to support the Trust’s emergency planning and response function. As Steven notes, “In the event of a serious incident or technology failure, we have great reliance on our internal telephony and IT systems. However, using cloud-based technology such as Reach provides additional resilience and makes the platform an exciting prospect for our emergency communications planning.”

Reach as part of digital transformation

The complete roll-out of Reach with LiveTiles Intranet is ongoing. Steven is optimistic about the part Reach will play in the digital transformation of the Trust. Components like the Directory are already proving useful in identifying staff roles and skills, and this feature will only grow in importance. He also looks forward to democratising the Intranet, so that different groups within the organisation can design and manage their own channels, as IT and Digital Services are already starting to develop locally.

Caring for Walsall Together

“Our strategic vision is Caring for Walsall together and we take that obligation seriously,” says Steven. “We have a way to go to completely deploy LiveTiles Intranet, but I know already that the experience of using Reach for our staff and the public has started to improve our communications and develop a stronger and more interactive information flow. It is important to me to see that all sections of our 4,500 strong workforce, clinical and non-clinical alike, understand how this organisation works together, celebrating our resilience and being proud of what we do for our communities.  Reach is a key building block of that strategy.”

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