To keep on top of its commitment to replace outdated beepers in hospitals, the NHS is looking to build a purchasing framework for communication equipment and services needed to replace its beeper system by 2021.
In February 2019, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced NHS trusts will be required to update their pagers by the end of 2021, stating all hospitals must have plans and infrastructure in place to make this possible by the end of September 2020.
The NHSX, the digital arm of the NHS, has started this process by advertising the £3 million tender to replace its bleeper system. The vendor will be required to address critical pain points for clinical operational teams, as well as having proven experience in creating an app capable of accommodating the entire NHS.
The service must be capable of carrying secure calls, messaging and image sharing, as well as syncing with the NHS staff directory. The procurement process will begin in June.
Compliance with data protection legislation, such as GDPR and patient safety regulations, and services associated with implementation, including in-app training or 24/7 customer support, are also listed as fundamental requirements. Services like patient lists, task management or video calls are listed as a “possible augmentation on the part of the supplier” but not mandatory.
The tender released by NHSX this morning states: “NHS organisations require dedicated communications and task management systems to save staff time by reducing their need to use the historic ‘bleep’ system or by sending emails. Staff need to share clinical information quickly and securely whilst at work but they should be able to be turned off when not at work”.
Do Beepers Need Updating?
There has been some speculation that replacing beepers is not strictly necessary.
Many hospitals have dead zones, due to insufficient WiFi or equipment like X-ray machines blocking the signal. Mobile networks can experience slow-downs or unavailability, which can delay calls and messages and induce a backlog. Mobile phones themselves can run out of battery mid-shift. Whereas pagers run on dedicated frequency networks that are better at penetrating buildings. During the 7/7 London bombings, mobile networks ground to a halt but pagers continued to operate.
Some staff have taken to Twitter to air their worries about the proposed changes.
Consultant in acute internal medicine in Wessex, Carl Heffernan, expressed worries about unreliable WiFi signals in a tweet:
Need to sort out hospital WiFi and phone signal within hospitals first for it to work
— Carl Heffernan (@CKHUK) February 23, 2019
Head of Mental Health Nursing at NHS E/I, Emma Wadey, wondered how mobile frameworks would work outside of hospitals:
What about where NHS care is provided in high secure settings and prisons- mobiles are illegal
— Emma Wadey RN (MH) (@NursingEmma) February 23, 2019
NHS worker Janet Young at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals revealed that they had already eradicated the beeper and were using mobiles instead. The current system is thought by some to be the quickest way of getting cardiologists to a patient suffering a cardiac arrest.
We have bleeps for the cardiac, fire and blood transfusions teams and the emergency 2222 call goes out to the cardiac team instantly
— Janet Young (@lizzymint13) February 23, 2019
When pressed as to what they did to alert their cardiac teams however, she revealed that they still use the beepers in numerous emergencies.