North West Ambulance Service — improving the patient experience with modern communications

North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) is an NHS Trust that provides 24-hour, 365-days-a-year accident and emergency services to those in Greater Manchester, Cheshire, Merseyside and Cumbria.

The NHS Trust also provides free patient transport services for those who require non-emergency transport to and from hospital and for those who are unable to travel without help due to their medical condition.

The challenge — communications management and cost

NWAS has 120 patient transport service agents spread across four contact centres, whose job is to take incoming calls from the public and organise transport in non-emergencies. The company also has around 500 admin staff, who manage the day-to-day processing of patient information.

Together, the staff at NWAS focus on providing a positive experience for patients. Attending hospital appointments can be an anxious time for patients and effective communication is crucial in minimising stress and helping them to feel in control.

NWAS’s existing telephony platform, forming the backbone of the transport contact centre, was outdated and poorly managed. It was difficult and time consuming to maintain and configure with a real risk of service outages. Agents also lacked visibility of who was calling or how many people were in the call queue.

When the existing telephony contract came to an end in 2013, NWAS looked for a new provider. As an NHS Trust, cost was a crucial factor, but so was finding a technology partner that met the requirements of the NHS procurement framework to ensure high quality. Solar won a competitive tender and provided a hosted unified communications solution.

The solution — hosted ShoreTel unified communications

After working closely with NWAS to understand its requirements, Solar delivered a ShoreTel hosted unified communications solution with ShoreWare network monitoring, computer-telephony integration, high availability and redundant architecture. The solution is flexible to manage and can scale and extend whenever NWAS needs.

A ShoreTel contact centre forms a core part of Solar’s solution, with features such as interactive voice response (IVR), real-time and historical call reports, advanced routing and softphones for all agents. Dashboards present comprehensive views of inbound and outbound call activity, presence availability and connections graphs, and agent activity.

Agents now have instant access to software on their desktops where they can arrange appointments for patients and call for an ambulance to transport the patient. The solution also offers desk-to-mobile extensions for agents who can continue to support the team when outside the contact centre.

High levels of support for NWAS and the new system came as standard from Solar, with automatic upgrades and highly competitive SLAs, including a two-hour response and four-hour fix for any emergency issues, and a 48-hour fix for hardware issues.

The benefits of modern communication

North West Ambulance Service has seen significant benefits from the hosted unified communication solution, provided by Solar.

  • Simpler management: The ShoreTel platform is simple to manage, maintain and configure, saving the IT department time and money. The desktop software gives managers an overall view of what each agent is currently doing, allowing for ease of management and resource planning.
  • Stronger business continuity: The redundancy guaranteed by Solar for the ShoreTel platform ensures agents can receive calls and organise transport even if the data centres go out of action.
  • Better patient service: The desktop software provides graphical and intuitive information about who is calling and who is in a call queue, so agents can better prepare for each call and provide a more personalised service.
  • More agility: For busy periods of the year, for example in winter, NWAS can easily increase the number of contact centre seats to deal with a temporary surge in demand, and only pay for what the organisation uses.
  • Greater staff efficiency: Desk-to-mobile extensions ensure that agents never miss calls while they’re away from their desks, and the global address book means all staff can quickly find contact numbers for colleagues across the whole of the NWAS.
  • Ease of use: The platform is easy to configure with an intuitive interface for the user, which means staff were up and running quickly and minimal training is required for any new starters.

Ash Esat, infrastructure support manager at North West Ambulance Service, said:

“As an NHS service we cannot afford for our communications to fail. We chose Solar Communications because they ticked all the boxes for us, delivering the right solution with a partnership approach that has provided a first-class service throughout.

“Our new communication solution fulfils all our needs and operations are much smoother and more efficient as a result. The intuitive user interface and the training provided by Solar ensured staff were up and running quickly, with desktop software that offers ideal communication features. The reporting dashboards give an overview of the entire contact centre operation and how it’s functioning, helping to inform our approach and deliver a positive experience for patients.”