Creating a simpler user experience for staff, patients and visitors

11 May 2022

As part of the national response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the NHS Nightingale Hospital Exeter was opened to provide additional capacity to care for those with Covid-19. The 116 bed NHS Nightingale Hospital Exeter was purpose built at speed in just 8 weeks. A crucial part of the build was the requirement for a robust, scalable and reliable network to support IT teams and healthcare staff to deliver better patient outcomes. Secure Wi-Fi network was a top priority to ensure operational efficiency to provide critical equipment and responsive care.

Nightingale Hospitals were conceived in a crisis. They had to be built in a matter of weeks ready to deal with an unpredictable and dangerous pandemic. The Exeter hospital required a comprehensive, reliable wired and wireless network across the site within weeks. The ability to deploy a major IT solution so quickly could be genuinely lifesaving. There was a clear need for fast, reliable Wi-Fi throughout the new hospital as well as outside in the area where ambulances arrive. The presence of state-of-the-art wireless and wired medical equipment throughout the site also posed a challenge to the network designers. A high level of tailoring and flexibility was essential. The solution had to meet the diverse needs of many different users, accessing both their own and NHS-owned devices. This could range from medical staff using Wi-Fi enabled medical equipment to families talking to their loved ones by video (to avoid close contact). Simple, empathetic experience design tailored to the individual user’s needs was, therefore, key to this project’s success. With so many different users in such a data sensitive medical setting, robust network security was a must. A solution was required that would allow both registered and guest users fast, easy access on any device while offering a high level of cyber security across the network.

Deploying a major IT solution quickly and effectively could potentially save lives during the global pandemic and a number of solutions were put in place to make this a reality.

The Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust selected Qolcom and HPE Aruba, both well-known and trusted IT partners to the NHS. Many surrounding hospitals already depend on Qolcom’s service and support experience, alongside HPE Aruba’s network technology. This on-the-ground presence meant that the time to deploy was significantly reduced. Central services could be rapidly extended to the Nightingale Exeter for authentication–via Aruba ClearPass and for management, via Aruba Airwave. Qolcom’s experience in the healthcare sector counted for a lot. In particular, its ability to devise a network strategy quickly to meet diverse user needs proved decisive.

Qolcom, together with HPE Aruba, worked in collaboration with the RD&E to deliver a robust, user centred network solution in a very short timescale. The solution was a tailored design based on a physical and logical extension of the RD&E LAN and WLAN to the NHE.

The network solution had four defining features, each contributing to meeting the Nightingale Hospital’s precise requirements:

Granular security (for Wi-Fi and wired network)

With Aruba ClearPass, the Trust gains the robust cyber security features of a wired network in a wireless environment. ClearPass combines context-based policy management with next-generation AAA (Authentication, Authorization, and Accounting) services for highly secure mobile connectivity. This simplifies the management of network access policies, onboarding, guest user access and multiple device use - all from a single platform.

Dependable hardware, intelligent design

Every aspect of the solution was designed to ensure a secure, reliable network. For example, the Aruba hardware components selected by Qolcom for the LAN and WLAN solution included Aruba 8325 and 6300M switches, 515 and 365 access points and UXI Sensors. Qolcom designed a simple, resilient two tier topology based on a dependable collapsed backbone architecture. At the core/aggregation layer are two Aruba 8325 switches deployed as a high-availability cluster to maximise up time. In addition, Aruba’s Virtual Switching Framework (VSF) feature allows multiple switches (up to 10) to be managed as one.

Wireless connectivity, centralised control

Fast, reliable Wi-Fi access is provided by several Aruba 515 series access points throughout the Hospital. A pair of Aruba 365 series external access points provide good Wi-Fi coverage to the area south of the building where ambulances bring in patients. The Aruba access points terminate on the mobility controllers hosted at the RD&E, with centralised management enabled via the Aruba Mobility Master. The new Hospital is connected to the RD&E network over two dedicated 10-Gigabit BT circuits via core/aggregation switches interfaced directly with the WAN equipment.

Collaborative delivery 3 4 and 24/7 support:

As with all Qolcom projects, the Nightingale project was delivered in three distinct phases - Plan, Document, Implement - all of which were accelerated to meet the time-critical demands of this project. Close collaboration between senior Qolcom team members and the Royal Devon & Exeter IT team confirmed the scope of the project. The working design was agreed quickly, followed by rapid sign off and implementation. Qolcom’s engineering team worked closely with RD&E teams on all configuration tasks relating to the wired and wireless network. This was followed by full documentation and knowledge transfer. 24/7 tailored hardware/software support is now in place via a secure remote connection.

A fast, reliable and secure IT network was delivered for the Nightingale Exeter – to a very tight timescale and on budget. The network offers superb wireless and wired connectivity throughout the site, with context-based security, reducing the IT team’s security headaches. Network management is greatly simplified, across a wide mix of users and devices. Healthcare workers can now quickly locate critical equipment through Wi-Fi enabled tracking, saving time and potentially lives, whilst patients are benefiting from a home-from-home experience to ensure they feel comfortable and can still speak to their loved ones through video chats (when close contact isn’t possible). The role played by IT in delivering improved healthcare experiences at the NHE was critical and with the support of Qolcom and HPE Aruba, the NHE is ready to play its part in treating patients with coronavirus. Its highly secure, easy-to-manage network infrastructure means it is also very flexible – so it can adapt to changing requirements in a rapidly-changing healthcare emergency.