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Creating better outcomes for healthcare workers and patients using resilient 4G services

22 December 2021

Creating better outcomes for healthcare workers and patients using resilient 4G services


The Scottish Wide Area Network (SWAN) is now supporting general practitioners (GPs) and Scottish Breast Screening Service (SBSS) mobile units with secure and reliable 4G connectivity to diagnostic systems and other NHS services. Delivered by Capita in partnership with Pangea, this new SWAN service enables a streamlined process for SBSS staff, reducing the time to get results back to patients and providing a more reliable connectivity solution for GP practices in some remote locations.

SWAN is one of the most important ICT initiatives ever undertaken in Scotland, providing secure and cost-effective WAN and other services, such as LAN support, voice, video and secure file transfer to the country’s public sector. Its member organisations include the Scottish Government, the Scottish Qualifications Authority, Historic Scotland, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, numerous local authorities and all 22 health boards across NHS Scotland.

Capita worked with service provider Pangea to introduce a solution that delivers reliable connectivity anywhere in the UK, via a 4G mobile network. The Pangea 4G router employs a multi-supplier SIM card which automatically locks onto the strongest signal from a choice of four mobile network providers (Three, Vodafone, EE, and O2). This is especially valuable in remote and rural areas where some providers might not have a presence.

At the SBSS mobile breast screening sites, speed is essential in detecting any anomalies in patients’ scans. Initially, Scotland’s mobile breast screening units were not connected to SWAN. This meant that clinics had to be manually downloaded and transferred to the mobile units in advance. Staff could not update the offline clinic information once downloaded, and any cancellations or change of appointments had to be recorded on paper and manually input into the live systems at a later date.

Now, SBSS staff can access the data online via the Pangea 4G solution, and clinic data can be updated at any time by SBSS staff back at base, with instant access by staff in the mobile units. Previously, manual transfer of offline images/data would typically happen within one or two days, however in more rural or remote areas it could take several days for the data to be transferred back to the SBSS centre for processing. The Pangea 4G solution allows instant transfer of images back to the SBSS centre, where staff can check that images have all been received and request any missing images to be re-sent. This reduces the workload for centre staff and transport officers, allowing them to be utilised for other tasks. It also allows images from remote areas to be analysed and reported on much more quickly, providing greater flexibility and facilitating better use of screening appointments. This has been a key benefit in the work to recover from the backlog created by the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown. In future, the SBSS has plans to introduce Artificial Intelligence (AI) to check image quality to assess whether they are of good enough quality to analyse and report on, or whether they need to be taken again. The Pangea 4G solution is a prerequisite to this service development, and will allow staff working in the mobile units to retake images during the same appointment, rather than patients having to be called back at a later date.  

Julie Carmichael, radiology manager from the South East Scotland Breast Screening Programme said: “The engineering visit to configure the equipment in the mobile units was quick and easy, all very straightforward. Now that we are using it, when I send the images, they go really fast.  This is such a big improvement on what we did before.

In another use case, GP surgeries with relatively slow ADSL backup circuits were finding that if they lost their primary fibre line for any reason, simple business as usual tasks were almost impossible to perform on the ADSL line. This was leading to a lack of productivity and extreme frustration among staff.

As part of the project, Capita checked each site for 4G suitability. This included conducting desktop and onsite surveys using signal analysers to decide where to position antennas (either internally or externally) to receive the best possible 4G signal every time. And of course, Capita had to adapt and work around the constraints of the Covid-19 pandemic at the same time. These GP sites are now safe in the knowledge that should their fibre line fail, they have a workable, resilient back-up solution that will support their needs until their primary service can be restored, with no impact on their day-to-day activities.

Another benefit of the Pangea 4G solution is that it can be installed quickly and easily, providing connectivity within a matter of hours. Recently, the solution was deployed to help a new build GP surgery when, after moving into the new premises, they discovered that the telecom provider had failed to provide fibre to the building. Capita stepped in with the Pangea 4G solution immediately, and the surgery was able to open on time, as planned.

The practice manager at the surgery said at the time: “The Capita engineer attended site yesterday and, thankfully, we are finding a huge difference this morning. I also have clinicians isolating who have been able to work from home today via remote access. I know this is only an interim fix but it’s certainly going well.

The GP practice continued to use the Pangea 4G solution as its primary SWAN service for three months until the telecom provider was able to provide a fibre line as originally requested, and the practice has retained the Pangea 4G solution as its backup circuit, such was the ease of use and reliability of the solution.

The SWAN Pangea 4G solution is currently being implemented at nine GP surgeries and all 15 breast screening mobile units in Scotland, improving the efficiency of the services and helping deliver better patient outcomes.

The SWAN Pangea 4G solution for both primary and secondary connections is available for all SWAN customers to order now.

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