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Why the NHS needs the cloud more than ever

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It’s safe to say that the NHS has always operated under pressure but now during the Coronavirus pandemic, the health service is under great strain to cope with significantly increased workloads. The last decade has seen a big government drive to digitalise public services, especially encouraging the use of technology within the NHS to improve health and social care for the UK population. While impressive progress has been made in deploying new technology across the health system, it’s time that the NHS fully embraces the significant benefits that the cloud can bring.

Not only will it have an instant impact on hosting and transferring applications, systems and data around the NHS but it will also be a major boost for NHS Digital - the team tasked with digitalising legacy systems. Cloud can help transform the way services are run; with digital solutions, the NHS can offer quicker and more seamless services, in turn improving patient outcomes.

The push to cloud

The Government launched the ‘Cloud First’ policy in 2013 to formally set out a plan to introduce cloud technology into the public sector to capitalise on benefits such as efficiency and cost reductions. Over the past decade, growing awareness and understanding of cloud technology has led to a big increase in its use across the private sector and this success is now feeding into the public sector.

For the NHS, digital transformation has been a target under the ‘Personalised Health & Care 2020’ policy; a framework designed to deploy innovative technologies throughout the healthcare system to better improve patient care and outcomes. This can’t be simply done in a few months, it’s a massive project that involves sweeping IT infrastructure, hundreds of applications, and legacy systems dating back decades, all the while maintaining functional healthcare services and protecting sensitive data.

Prioritising the use of the cloud will bring huge benefits to the NHS Digital team who are currently leading the transformation projects across the health system. Diversifying resources whilst still maintaining a secure and agile network will be key to helping the NHS move to the next stage of transformation.

Making the most out of the cloud

With the cloud, the transformation process can be made much smoother for NHS Digital.

The concept of the cloud lends itself perfectly to the current state the NHS finds itself in - stretched and mid-way through the digitalisation of its services. Cloud platforms can be used as best needed at this current time scaling up or down according to demand. With the pandemic ongoing, mass amounts of confidential data are being produced daily and utilising cloud platforms can ease the pressure on the traditional data storage centres.

The flexibility of the cloud will allow the NHS to deploy and store applications and workloads as needed. Instead of paying for huge, on-premise services that are limited in their offering, using the cloud means the NHS will only be paying for what its using, bringing significant cost savings across the board and allowing the NHS to redirect the money saved toward improving patient healthcare.

With the cloud enabling a more secure and agile network, the NHS can replace traditional, manual services with digital solutions such as the monitoring of patient vital signs. Instead of nurses having to waste time using paper and pen to record updates and changes, this can be done digitally, improving patient supervision and saving vital time for nurses during this pandemic.

Choosing the right solution 

The beauty of the cloud means the NHS can choose the best cloud platforms to suit its current hybrid state. Digitalising the NHS will take time and there are a variety of different cloud strategies the NHS could employ. A multicloud strategy is often used to denote the use of ‘multiple’ major public cloud service providers such as Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, Oracle Cloud and Amazon Web Services (AWS).

A hybrid cloud strategy, on the other hand, uses a blend of cloud platforms such as public cloud, private cloud and even virtualised on-premise. Both strategies work well in allowing organisations with a large range of applications and systems to deploy them in the most suitable locations, instead of trying to shoehorn them into an inappropriate location due a lack of options.

Having a multicloud system will help the NHS minimise reliance on any one public cloud provider thereby increasing the flexibility and security risks. However, the hybrid cloud option perfectly lends itself to the transition state the health system currently finds itself in; this strategy will allow the NHS to use the right type of cloud platform based on an application or system’s needs.

Ensuring balance

At the same time, while the NHS copes with the Coronavirus pandemic, the cloud can help improve the NHS’s risk management strategy. The NHS is introducing more technology by the day, and that means more gateways for vulnerabilities to be exploited. NHS Digital must employ a careful balancing act to ensure that one area is not compromised because of the prioritisation of another. Often organisations are eager to implement the latest technologies while forgetting the cyber-risks that come with it.

Cybersecurity must be prioritised within the NHS; not only does it operate key services and functions for the UK population, but it also holds mass amounts of sensitive and confidential data that multiplies by the day. The WannaCry cyberattack in 2017 managed to stop the NHS from working to its full capacity, severely disrupting patient services. The healthcare system cannot afford such an incident happening again, especially during this critical time of an ongoing pandemic. With the cloud, the cybersecurity team can create a list of risk indicators across the NHS to inform the wider cyber-strategy.

While different technology is being deployed across the NHS to improve its services and patient outcomes, the cloud is extremely important in enabling the healthcare system to do better including a secure, agile network, better integrated risk management, flexibility and elasticity in the use of applications and importantly, large cost savings.

Justin Day, CEO, Cloug Gateway