Precision planning and teamwork at the core of against-the-clock prisons project
The Health Informatics Service (THIS) has forged a strong partnership with Spectrum Community Health CIC, supporting its IT infrastructure as it continues to expand and develop following its inception 11 years ago.
Spectrum Community Health CIC is a social enterprise that delivers a range of community and offender healthcare services on behalf of the NHS, local authority public health services and other partners predominantly in the North of England.
It is a Community Interest Company - a form of social enterprise - and a not-for-profit organisation with a head count of approximately 1,200. Any financial surpluses are ploughed back into initiatives and projects that improve public health and wellbeing.
It provides health support services to 18 prisons, four sexual health services and a wealth of community health services across the North of England.
Our latest project with Spectrum saw us transition an IT provision when it took over the running of health and drug administration services at two men’s prisons in Humberside – HMP Hull, a category B prison, which is the level below high security, and HMP Humber, a category C prison, which houses a number of people on remand among the prison population.
Regardless of their security status, both prisons have a significant number of men with drug and alcohol related problems and ensuring a smooth service transition was paramount to maintaining the health and wellbeing of the prisons’ populations and avoiding any disruption to the drug administration routines – for example, daily methadone management – that could cause unrest.
An exemplar of precision planning and teamwork
A prison without a healthcare system would not be allowed to remain open and in operation. The pressure of keeping services running smoothly can only be alleviated with perfect planning.
Senior Project Manager Rachel Newburn led the transition, as she has done on several projects with Spectrum. She begins any project of this kind with a site survey along with a network engineer.
“One of the first things we do is to go in and fact find to get a feel for the place. The network engineer comes out with me as that is quite a technical subject that needs specialist knowledge."
“From that, we bring the information back and usually start working with the outgoing IT providers to see if what we've seen on site matches up with their version. Building that relationship and opening channels of communication is important because if we didn't get support from the outgoing provider, it makes our job a lot harder."
“Once we have the full picture, we get our team set up, and start by asking if they have any major concerns. I've managed projects like this so many times now that I've kind of got a feel for what’s right and what’s not, and if I think there might be a problem I lean on my technical colleagues to look into that in more detail."
“We usually keep the same network engineer throughout the whole project, but the planning is done with the team managers before we put our technicians on the ground.”
The project was completed by three technicians at the Hull site and two at Humber, with Rachel travelling between the two.
“It was a huge team effort with people staying away from home and going over and above to get everything done in time,” says Rachel.
“We also have a fantastic relationship with Spectrum, they really see us as partners in terms of how we work together. It's not a case of we provide, and they consume, it's very much a collaborative relationship.”
Working against the clock
The complexity of the Humberside project was having to juggle a dual-site installation in a very tight timescale, and as with all our work for Spectrum in prison settings, factoring in challenging and sometimes time-consuming security procedures.
This project in particular left little room for manoeuvre as the previous supplier was removing its IT in the space of 24 hours leaving our team on a tight deadline to install a new VPN, replace the 100-strong PC infrastructure and install a brand-new pharmacy system that the prison pharmacies had not used before and were not familiar with.
Rachel Newburn explains:
“There wasn’t really a handover period. We pretty much had to turn everything around on the first day we stepped in, and then had to follow that with dealing with any glitches and providing support to ensure all the systems were safe and effective for the staff on both sites."
“We arrived on a Monday lunchtime to scope out the locations where we’d be working, such as where the PCs would be going. We began work on the Tuesday and had everything installed and running smoothly in both locations by the Friday."
“Getting in the day before is really important to be ready for the deployment day. It involves things like physically moving computers around the prison so that they are in the right room ready to ready to go live."
"Once you do the cut over from the old networks onto the new, you have to get things done very quickly. On some projects you can do it gradually over a couple of days but not in this case."
“The only work we could do in advance was on the methadone prescription system, Methylmeasure, which we did the day before Spectrum took over, primarily to keep it running smoothly without a break in dispensing.”
Overcoming the challenges of working in prison – and a pandemic
Experience of working across a host of different healthcare organisations is what makes The Health Informatics Service (THIS) one of the most unique organisations in the NHS and while we are well acquainted with working in prisons, combining that experience with the Covid-19 pandemic produced a host of different complexities to overcome.
This is what happened when THIS collaborated with Spectrum to transition the IT services at seven prisons in the North East after Spectrum won the management contract to run the prisons’ health services and the go-live for the project fell just as the first lockdown was imposed.
Jim Longley, THIS’ Service Account Manager, who worked on the North East project, says:
“Plan A became plan B, and then plan C. We had to be flexible – the aim was to keep everyone on seven sites working as normal without any downtime, which we achieved by remotely taking over management of the network equipment and devices."
“We also deployed tools to enable us to successfully manage and support these servers remotely moving forward until we could physically attend the sites."
“We remotely connected to each site’s independent active directory environment, carrying out the required changes to allow us to manage and support each site independently - from being able to create and remove user accounts, setting up printers and implementing group policies to manage new desktop environments on all computers."
“Our ability to remotely take control of the computer environment enabled Spectrum to concentrate on managing the continuity of patient care within the prisons.”
Once a new IT architecture and environment had been agreed, and with access to the sites finally allowed the transition to a full-blown THIS-supported infrastructure began and included the transition to Microsoft Office 365 where users could access their new accounts and the new suite of applications that came with it.
The risks and challenges that had to be considered included:
- Arranging for new equipment to be delivered and be available when required while taking account of prison security.
- The ability to re-image devices and the associated equipment to allow it to pass through security.
- Planning for the possibility of a prison having to go into lockdown for a security issue, with contingency plans to allow for this.
- Agreeing downtime with the healthcare teams while the network configuration was changed.
Maximising the benefits of Microsoft Office 365
In an ever-changing world of remote and/or agile working, the need to communicate and collaborate simply and seamlessly has never been so important, which is why THIS utilises the full Microsoft Office 365 suite of apps in its healthcare hub to maximise the ability of teams to work together, share knowledge, insight and feedback.
The Spectrum transitions in Humberside and the North East meant migrating users to Microsoft Office 365 from Microsoft Office 2010 – within which users had been restricted to Outlook, Word and Excel – the benefits of which are detailed in the following insight: Microsoft Office 365 healthcare hub and its vastly improved functionality.
Our experience acquired through previous Office 2010 to Office 365 migrations enable us to tailor projects to Spectrum’s specifications, meeting all their needs in the process. The long-running partnership with Spectrum means we have an extensive knowledge of the organisation and how it works.
This was particularly useful when we migrated Spectrum’s server-based infrastructure to a cloud-based Microsoft Office 365 solution providing improved functionality, security and integration for approximately 1,200 staff.
We worked through configurations and process mapping with Spectrum to support the organisation from a security perspective, and we transferred all email accounts and systems in such a way that Spectrum’s users did not experience any outages or downtime. This was done in a transitional, pre-planned way with as little impact on end-users as possible.
Spectrum also wanted the benefits of upgrading from the server-based Office 2010 – which was no longer being supported by Microsoft - to the cloud-based Office 365 to take advantage of the cloud’s greater flexibility and easier access, thus removing the need to provide service support and security for the Office 2010 server on its premises.
THIS has a three-year rolling contract with Spectrum that will continue for at least another two years thanks to the strong and evolving partnership forged between them.
The partnership benefits both parties in that THIS understands Spectrum’s specific requirements and is able to provide advice and assurance that any challenge will be overcome. While Spectrum benefits from being able to rely on THIS to support its ever-changing environment, knowing its subject matter experts will be able to react quickly to new developments and changes as and when they are required.
Sharon Hardcastle, Spectrum’s Director of Finance, says:
“Our relationship with THIS has always been a very positive one. Our growth has been significant over our 11-year history and the ‘can-do’ and proactive attitude adopted by THIS has contributed significantly to our successful delivery of services. We work in some of the most challenging environments with complex security considerations and the flexibility to support and develop workable solutions has always been provided by the experienced THIS teams.”