Private 5G network to connect NHS-funded digital health trials with potential UK-wide rollout within five years

  • UK’s first 5G-enabled hospital launches new digital health trial – using Virgin Media’s O2 Business private 5G network to connect mission-critical hospital operations including smart medicine storage and electronic monitoring
  • Expected benefits range from better connectivity to save clinicians time and improve patient records to reducing drug waste and improving air quality
  • Trials are now underway at Bethlem Royal Hospital, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, with 5G connected devices for doctors, IoT technology, AR and AI headsets

Virgin Media O2 Business has launched the UK’s first 5G hospital with South London and the Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust – the UK’s largest provider of mental health services.

The enablement is part of the Maudsley Digital Lab’s series of digital medicine trials and innovations funded by NHS Digital, with a private 5G network providing dedicated connectivity for critical digital health use cases for both doctors and patients. The trials will explore the efficiency, safety and security benefits of using smart technologies connected to the 5G network in NHS hospitals, including IoT (Internet of Things), AR (Augmented Reality) and AI (Artificial Intelligence).

The Maudsley Smart Hospital and Maudsley Smart Pharmacy trials are currently taking place in two wards at Bethlem Royal Hospital in South London. These include dedicated near-real-time connectivity to electronic monitoring systems where clinicians use handheld devices to update patient records, saving valuable time and improving accuracy. It will also combine smart devices and monitoring to reduce the waste of expensive medicines and monitor air quality in wards. In addition, hospital IT teams will have access to expert support from other hospitals thanks to Remote Expert (an AR tool), while the Trust will be able to better plan public spaces with Spatial Insights, which uses artificial intelligence to provide anonymous heat map analysis crowd movements using CCTV footage.

The trial, part of the South London Digital Health and Innovation trial portfolio and the Maudsley Digital Lab, is a joint development between South London and the Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, NHS Digital, Virgin Media O2 Business, Bruhati and Nokia. It will test several use cases:

5G-enabled Electronic Observations (eObs)

The eObs app is designed to monitor patients’ vital signs, allowing clinicians to use handheld devices to digitally update patient records and conduct real-time observations. Virgin Media O2 Business’ private 5G network using Nokia’s Digital Automation Cloud (DAC) will provide the dedicated, high-speed, reliable and secure data healthcare professionals need to communicate in real-time with an online electronic monitoring platform without the need to use the hospital’s WiFi network . This will save valuable time, allowing clinicians to perform rounds more efficiently, as well as provide more accurate records for each individual patient.

Connected Smart Devices and Smart Monitoring (Internet of Things)

The 5G trials will also include an innovation lab and IoT platform in partnership with Bruhati (South London and Maudsley have made Bruhati their IoT Trust technology delivery partner). This will look at smart connected use cases, including remote monitoring of medicine fridges to ensure medicines are kept at the optimum temperature and thus reducing costly waste, monitoring air quality in wards and monitoring the occupancy of tables and conference rooms in hospitals.

Augmented Reality (AR)

To improve IT support as the hospital moves to more digital ways of working, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust will also trial Remote Expert – a Virgin Media O2 Business headset with AR (Augmented Reality) connectivity. Remote Expert allows an expert in another location to direct on-site workers to perform complex tasks. For example, a worker at one South London and Maudsley hospital could put on a 5G-connected headset and see a remote expert at another hospital via a video stream. This means that IT engineers on site will be able to quickly and easily get support from experts elsewhere when working on the hospital’s network and servers.

artificial intelligence (AI)

Using Spatial Insights from Virgin Media O2 Business, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust will be able to use artificial intelligence to create heat maps and understand how people move around Maudsley Hospital by analyzing footage from the hospital’s CCTV cameras and assessing movement templates. This means the hospital can better plan public spaces by getting a picture of queues, waiting times and busy hotspots in the hospital at a given time. Spatial Insights does all of this anonymously, all information is processed on-site, never stored, and the process is fully GDPR compliant.

Mike Smith, Director of Large Enterprise and Public Sector at Virgin Media O2 Business, said: “For nearly 75 years, the National Health Service has been a cornerstone of British society and today we are proud to announce the commissioning of the UK’s first 5G-connected hospital, showing how next-generation technology can help create smarter, more modern healthcare services for all. Our aim is to map out the rollout of wireless and smart hospital connectivity across the NHS over the next three to five years. Trials like these are the epitome of our mission to modernize the UK and a clear sign of the role we can play in shaping the NHS of the future.”

Stuart McLellan, Acting Chief Information Officer of South London and the Maudsley Foundation, said: “Exploring and using the latest technology supports our core strategic aim of providing excellent mental health care to the people who use our services, their carers and families. We are proud to be working with Virgin Media O2 Business to create the UK’s first 5G-enabled hospital, enabling us to use digital innovation to improve patient outcomes. This is a very exciting step forward.”

Kester Mann, technology analyst and director of consumer affairs and communications at CCS Insight, said: “This is a landmark moment for the UK’s telecommunications and healthcare sectors. A dedicated 5G network in hospitals could open the door to a number of new applications, such as real-time patient tracking, remote support, and 24/7 monitoring of drugs and equipment. Its high throughput and low latency can also improve the efficiency and safety of existing operations, making healthcare services smarter, more accurate and more efficient.”

Virgin Media O2 Business switches on the UK’s first 5G-connected hospital with South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust

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