We’ve heard a lot of about resilience recently. Resilience is the thing that allows us to keep going during a crisis, the ability to recover from difficulties. It’s no surprise, then, that it’s one of the key qualities that public and government expect from the NHS in a crisis.
We’re probably most used to hearing about resilience in staff. You may have considered it as a mental health attribute, the ability to get on with a stressful job without being dragged down by psychological or physical demands. According to legend, resilient people can manage adversity and emerge unscathed.
But as the COVID crisis progressed you will have noticed the media going beyond NHS staff resilience, talking about the wider resilience of the NHS and its healthcare systems. And then we started hearing about the resilience of things that sit around the NHS, such as supply chains and community services.
It turns out that your own resilience isn’t enough. For example, for the NHS to be truly resilient, NHS staff have to be resilient, NHS organisations have to be resilient, linked services have to be resilient, suppliers have to be resilient. It’s a chain and the NHS’s resilience is only as good as the weakest, least resilient part of that chain.
Which brings us on to how we make ourselves resilient at Consultant Connect. We are a part of the NHS healthcare system, with thousands of clinicians relying on our platform to put them in touch with other clinicians immediately. For us, resilience is about making sure our tech platform continues to perform when usage increases and that calls and messages continue to be answered quickly. This is our core function.
In February we dropped all technology development activities that weren’t part of this core function. We focused all of our efforts on improving our system’s capacity to make and connect calls to available clinicians. We modelled and simulated huge increases in call and message loads and tested the system again and again. We added difficulties into the system, such as WiFi failing and poor mobile connectivity and tested the system some more. Then, when we’d tested the system as much as we could, we took our results and started building in extra safeguards and capacity into our technology.
We bolstered local advice rotas with clinicians who were shielding, meaning they could continue to contribute even if they couldn’t be on the front line in person. At the same time, we increased recruitment to our National Consultant Network. As local clinicians were moved to the front line we found ourselves being asked to back up local advice pathways so that GPs and paramedics could still access the advice they needed even if it wasn’t available locally. It was an extraordinary situation made more extraordinary by the response and enthusiasm of clinicians and management.
The result of this was that, although we saw a more-than-doubling of use within a few weeks, our platform continued to connect up clinicians immediately and reliably. During that period we also saw an increase in the answer rate of calls and records being set for the speed of responses to photo-messages (quickest was under 2 minutes, since you ask!). As hundreds of new users joined the platform every day, we were able to make sure that they got the advice they needed immediately, ensuring patients got the right care and avoiding thousands of trips to hospital.
And it’s continued. As GPs and paramedics have embraced new ways of working, we have been pleased to see that we’re part of their new “talk before you walk” normal. And as part of that, we will continue to focus on connecting clinicians quickly and reliably – because our resilience is part of the NHS’s own resilience.